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About me

My name is Cal.

I'm Clint Eastwood's dad. Yes, I possess the greatest sperm known to man.

When I'm not tooling around in one of my nine Aston Martins or indulging in any number of my twenty-eight wives, I write stuff and watch television. Oh, and I exercise as frequently as possible, sculpting dem abs. U mirin?

People may wonder why I pump so much time and effort into reviewing movies when it's doubtful many people even read my full reviews. With IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and other websites full of critics more knowledgeable and better read than me, why should you bother with my writing? Well, I leave you to answer that question for yourself. Perhaps my primitive sense of humour will factor into your enjoyment of my reviews. Or perhaps it's that I am merely a lover of movies and do not consider myself a critic. Critics trash fun movies but praise wildly overrated, boring movies. I just like having fun at the movies... And I assess a movie as a guy who loves movies and seeks a good time.

I do not receive any money or revenue for my writing, so I write this as a passion and as a hobby. I aim to simply provide a fair, balanced analysis and commentary of a movie I've seen.

Thus, people may think I at times go too easy on a movie. Well, that's because I look for the good in all movies, even bad ones. I want to recognise the effort that has gone into a movie, and be fair to the filmmaker's intentions. I want to break into the film industry and I wish to make movies, so all films deserve a fair trial in my mind. I'd hate it for people to give a film of mine a low rating for a few purely nitpicking reasons.

That is all.

My reviews cannot be copied or reposted in whole or part without my express permission!
I once came across someone hovering around the web who copied my reviews word for smegging word.

However, you can link my reviews on your lists and stuff. That's perfectly cool. As long as I get credit

That's all I have to say.

Oh, and I post my reviews on a few different websites, most notably Squabblebox, MichaelDVD and Manly Movie. I did some writing for Digital Hippos briefly... But that site is run by a bunch of cunts, so I didn't remain as a staff member. I suggest you guys avoid that site, too.

You'll find my reviews scattered on other websites around the web, including The Critical Critics, Flixster, etc. Demand for my writing is actually rather high. I've even been quoted on Blu-ray covers.

And finally...
Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/StrayButler91
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Link to SquabbleBox, the entertainment website I write for: www.squabblebox.co.uk/
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Facebook? Dream on, internet stalkers...


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Thrilling action film with genuine humanity

Posted : 6 days, 23 hours ago on 16 March 2017 05:12 (A review of Blood Father)

"I got no idea how you piss guys like that off..."

Mel Gibson's first star vehicle since the insanely underrated Get the Gringo all the way back in 2012, Blood Father is far more than just another subpar straight-to-video action flick. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter Craig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Andrea Berloff), this is a hard-edged thriller more concerned with characters than action, finding a solid emotional core which elevates the material far above more disposable B-grade trash starring the likes of Steven Seagal. It's a shame that some will most likely either underrate or simply ignore Blood Father on account of Gibson's presence, as such punters will be missing out on one hell of a gratifying movie, one of 2016's best. It's certainly better than most other aging-star action flicks like The Gunman, 3 Days to Kill and the Taken trilogy.

Out of prison on parole, John Link (Gibson) maintains a tattoo business out of his dingy trailer in remote California as he works through his addictions in a twelve-step program, supported by sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy). Out of the blue, Link's 17-year-old runaway daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) contacts him for help after she shoots her drug-dealing boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) during a botched armed heist. Lydia is desperate for money to allow her to disappear, but Link demands that she stay with him at least for a little while, as he hopes to reconnect with his estranged child and eliminate her drug habit. Before long, the Mexican drug cartels catch up with Lydia, but Link is not about to give his daughter over to them. Breaking parole, Link goes on the run with his child, determined to protect Lydia at any cost as armed thugs relentlessly pursue them.

The father-daughter dynamic between Link and his daughter is unexpectedly respectful and free of hoary genre clichés. Lydia does not hate her father even despite his criminal history, and the film refuses to adopt the predictable "you sucked as a father" trope that's been done to death, which is certainly refreshing. Lydia is also wholly aware of the trouble that she's bringing to the broken, desperate Link, and she only wants to leave as soon as possible to avoid dragging him into the whole affair. However, Link is willing to take a bullet for Lydia, finding a renewed will to live when his daughter re-enters his life. Blood Father finds time for intimate character moments throughout, infusing Link and Lydia's relationship with an unexpected authenticity. If there's an issue with the movie, it's that some scenes are edited too quickly, which is most noticeably felt as the movie approaches the finish line, slightly hampering some of the more tender moments. Blood Father needed more room to breathe, and an extended edition would be enticing, especially since excised material reportedly exists (scenes featuring Lydia's mother were excised from the final cut). But this isn't nearly enough to undo the strengths of Blood Father, of which there are countless.

Even though it was shot in 2014 and spent over two years waiting to be released, Blood Father does not exhibit the recognisable hallmarks of a troubled post-production. On the contrary, it's astonishingly competent, thanks in large part to French director Jean-François Richet, here making his first English-language feature since the surprisingly decent 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13. Richet infuses Blood Father with his European sensibilities, elevating it above more standard-order American action films, making the most of the reported $15 million budget. Shot on location in New Mexico, the desert vistas are consistently stunning, while the action scenes are of a uniformly high quality. The shootouts are more realistic than the likes of Taken or John Wick, with an aesthetic closer to something like Sicario. The action sequences are loud, raw and edge-of-your-seat intense, once again showing that Gibson still has the moves for these sorts of productions. Best of all, the mayhem is smooth and easy to follow, without any shaky-cam or rapid-fire cutting. The blood is all gloriously practical, too, with squibs as opposed to phoney digital bloodshed, in keeping with the tangible aesthetic. (It appears there are also some references to Mad Max 2, which is a nice touch.)

Remarkably, Richet manages to create two fully three-dimensional characters who are easy to latch onto and empathise with, and the movie is further bolstered by fine performances across the board. This is one of the best roles for Gibson at this point in his career. He looks insanely ripped and rugged, and you can certainly believe him to be a legitimate threat. He capably sells the drama and emotion during the quieter character moments, but he's equally compelling when chaos begins to reign down. John Link is boldly introduced at an AA meeting, during which he discusses the guilt he feels about past transgressions, as well as his desire to remain on the straight and narrow, and the material is remarkably poignant coming from Gibson. It's been great to see Gibson play villainous roles in Machete Kills and The Expendables 3, but here he proves that he's still a captivating leading man who's able to carry a film. Moriarty impresses as well, never coming across as grating or irritating. And in the supporting cast, Macy is reliably charismatic as Link's best friends/sponsor, and his interactions with Gibson are just fucking magical. Also making a positive impression is Luna, recently seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, while Michael Parks almost steals the show as neo-Nazi psychopath who was once Link's mentor. It's a small but effective cast, and there isn't a single dud performance in sight.

Blood Father plays out like a contemporary western which substitutes horses with motorcycles, and cowboys with bikers/thugs. Perhaps the movie's greatest achievement is the fact that it manages to deliver ample character beats to add a genuine touch of humanity without skimping on the fierce action sequences, and all within a taut 85-minute running time. The very antithesis of both Hollywood blockbusters and B-grade action movies, this feels like the type of movie we used to see in the '80s and '90s, but with a coat of contemporary polish. In a way, Blood Father also feels like a fitting swansong to Gibson's career as an action star. It's a real keeper, folks.


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Cheaper, not as stylish, less involving

Posted : 2 months ago on 21 January 2017 10:05 (A review of Mechanic: Resurrection)

"You have 36 hours to eliminate all the targets on this list. Or they will eliminate me."

Returning to business-as-usual after supporting performances in Spy and Furious 7, Mechanic: Resurrection is an out-and-out Jason Statham action movie, an undemanding popcorn flick that bears absolutely no resemblance to its 2011 predecessor. (Or the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same name that it was based on, for that matter.) Indeed, whereas the Simon West-directed first film was more of a 1970s-style thriller, Mechanic: Resurrection takes inspiration from the formula actioners of the 1980s, spotlighting Statham as he kills countless henchmen in a video-game-style fashion. Sloppily scripted and often cartoonish, it's indistinguishable from the likes of Crank and The Transporter, and unfortunately comes up dangerously short in terms of genuine thrills.

Now retired from the contract killing profession, Arthur Bishop (Statham) endeavours to stay off the grid, consistently moving around whenever his location becomes compromised. Fleeing to a remote Thai island overseen by old friend Mae (Michelle Yeoh), trouble enters Bishop's life with the arrival of abused damsel Gina (Jessica Alba), who strikes up a relationship with the assassin. However, Bishop soon learns that he is being watched by international arms dealer Crain (Sam Hazeldine), who kidnaps Gina to force Bishop into completing three assassinations in remote locations around the world. Pulled back into the business of killing, Bishop has only a matter of days to pull off the near-impossible murders and make them look like accidents. It's a tough assignment, but the assassin cannot deny his feelings for Gina, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to rescue her from Crain.

The whole enterprise is about as preposterous as it sounds, spotlighting Bishop as he manages to hopscotch across the globe in a matter of hours, calling upon his seemingly unlimited arsenal and impossibly vast knowledge of computer hacking, chemistry and engineering to get the jobs done. Each hit honestly feels like a level in a video game like Hitman or Splinter Cell, as each assassination presents its own series of increasingly difficult obstacles for Bishop to overcome, and a single mistake would spell disaster. It's in these sequences when the movie feels most in line with the original Mechanic, as Bishop must rely on intellect rather than pure brawn, but the execution by director Dennis Gansel (We Are the Night) leaves a lot to be desired. The assassinations should be nail-bitingly intense and intricate (think Brian De Palma), but for the most part play out like throwaway action beats. Unusually, the movie endeavours to give real dimension to Bishop and Gina, as the first half is concerned with character drama and romance. However, it doesn't work; it's all very ham-fisted, badly-paced and dull. It feels like homework before we can get into the action stuff that we actually came here to see. When Alba is finally kidnapped, it comes as a relief.

A huge issue with Mechanic: Resurrection is that it's undeniably cheap-looking, but not "endearing low-budget 1980s" cheap - rather, it's “contemporary digital” cheap, which just makes the flick look lazy. Green-screening is uniformly terrible, while digital explosions look phoney and there is far too much obvious computer-generated blood. Hell, the movie even shamelessly moves to cheap, indistinguishable Eastern European locations for its final act. Even though the production budget is reported to be $40 million, this figure is surely an exaggeration - but then again, Statham probably took home a nice paycheque, and there are nineteen credited producers sticking their fingers into the pie. (Yes, fucking nineteen!) Mechanic: Resurrection lacks the flair that Simon West brought to the 2011 movie, but there is admittedly some enjoyment to gain from the action sequences when they do finally arrive. Statham remains a capable man of action (even though he's nearly 50), and here he punches, kicks and shoots his way through an endless succession of faceless enemies. When Mechanic: Resurrection works, it's cheesy fun, especially for fans of Statham or the action genre in general, but your mileage may vary of course.

As previously stated, Statham does well throughout the athletic action scenes, and his grizzled face makes him ideal for these sorts of roles. The Brit is one of the last old-school action stars, and it's fortunate that he's so watchable here, even if his dramatic chops are still merely so-so. As the token female of the piece, Alba serves her purpose as eye candy. She even rocks a bikini in a few scenes, and is given the chance to fight. As ever, though, Alba is not an especially good actress, and the other supporting performances are just as unimpressive - nobody is unable to give much spark to the hackneyed, lifeless dialogue. However, despite his appallingly limited screen-time, Jones manages to make a positive impression as Bishop's final mark. Decked out like a hippy in colourful clothes and sunglasses, he's hammy enough to make his scenes enjoyable, but don't expect anything in the way of gravitas, as this is strictly a paycheque effort for the veteran actor. Oh, and you are going to be incredibly disappointed if you're expecting Yeoh to show off her impressive fight moves here - she is utterly wasted in a non-physical role. Who the hell casts Yeoh just for her acting?

It has a few entertaining action beats here and there, but overall Mechanic: Resurrection is cheaper, not as stylish, and less involving than its predecessor. The 2011 Mechanic was endowed with edge and grit, but here Bishop is turned into an invincible superhero, able to accomplish impossible physical feats without breaking a sweat. Statham deserves better than this. The Mechanic underperformed at the worldwide box office back in 2011, but earned enough in the home video market to spawn this sequel. Mechanic: Resurrection wound up grossing over $100 million worldwide with a bulk of the money coming from China, and that's before home media sales, so we can most likely expect to see a third movie in a few years.


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A genuinely terrifying fright flick

Posted : 2 months, 1 week ago on 10 January 2017 03:29 (A review of Lights Out)

"Well, if she's not a ghost then what is she?"

Another low-budget fright film from Australian producer James Wan, 2016's Lights Out is one of the superior horror offerings of the year, and that's not simply by default. This feature debut for filmmaker David F. Sandberg is a slick, taut, well-made thriller featuring likeable characters who don't act like complete idiots, and it doesn't insult audience intelligence, which is a minor miracle. Whereas Wan's recent The Conjuring 2 clocked in at over two hours, Lights Out runs a refreshingly lean 75 minutes, with very little in the way of narrative flab. It's a taut succession of genuinely frightening set-pieces bolstered by strong performances and focused direction, and the dramatics of the story are more effective than expected. For a minor $5 million production, it does its job extraordinarily well.

A twentysomething woman with severe intimacy issues, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has distanced herself from troubled mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who has long battled mental illness. Off her meds, Sophie gets worse after the mysterious death of her second husband Paul (Billy Burke), staying up all night and communicating with a malevolent entity she calls Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), who can only materialise in darkness. Rebecca's brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) develops insomnia due to his fear of Diana and starts falling asleep at school, which forces Rebecca to get involved, taking her sibling back to her apartment to protect him. But simply going across town is not enough to deter the sharp-clawed wraith, and Rebecca becomes determined to uncover the mystery surrounding Diana.

A feature-length adaptation of Sandberg's 2013 short movie of the same name, Lights Out uses a unique premise which cleverly exploits humankind's innate fear of the darkness. Since Diana cannot attack whenever a functioning light source is available, many of the movie's most nail-biting moments involve characters struggling to turn on any sort of light to save their lives - not just lamps or overhead lights, but smart phones and car headlights are used as well. To Sandberg's credit, he establishes the rules surrounding Diana and strictly adheres to them, finding intense moments in exploring the often shallow border between light and dark. As with any horror film of this ilk, the protagonists set out to uncover the mystery surrounding Diana, but thankfully the reveal of her backstory in no way undermines her effectiveness as a monster. Furthermore, the familial dramatics serve to enhance the story, making this more than just a more run-of-the-mill horror offering.

Prior to making his directorial debut here, Sandberg had only helmed shorts, and repeatedly found himself unable to secure funding from the Swedish Film Institute. Yet, his inexperience with features is never evident at any point throughout Lights Out, which is endowed with staggering assurance and authority, especially with the layered, eye-catching cinematography by Marc Spicer (Furious 7). Sandberg may indulge in certain genre clichés and tropes, but such aspects are sold with genuine vigour to make them work. Take, for instance, Diana's first appearance in the opening sequence: an office worker turns off the lights for the night, only to see an intimidating figure silhouetted against the dim light of the next room. When the lights are flipped back on, Diana is gone. But with the lights off, the silhouette returns. The worker begins turning the lights on and off, until Diana is suddenly closer. It's a predictable moment, but on Sandberg's watch, it's terrifying nevertheless.

Lights Out doesn't muck around, working through a fast-paced routine of scary scenes intercut with character drama and investigation before spending its third act holed up inside Sophie's home, leading to a consistently riveting extended sequence as the characters find whatever they can to remain in some degree of light as Diana comes after them. More importantly, the tautly-edited climax is a immense fun, with scares and tension aplenty. Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you - Lights Out may not be bloody or gory, but Sandberg manages to frighten using unnerving sounds and images.

Performances are strong right down the line, led by Australian actress Palmer, who manages to sell fear and dread without breaking a sweat. It's a small cast, and thankfully all the actors help to maintain Sandberg's vivid illusion. The only real issue with Lights Out is its abrupt ending, which makes the resolution of the story almost feel too easy. It's not a deal-breaker, thankfully, and again the movie's tautness is a gift in an age of overcomplicated horrors, but the ending is a tad jarring nevertheless. Lights Out is a real keeper in spite of its shortcomings, signifying the exciting arrival of a new filmmaking talent, though it remains to be seen if it winds up sullied by endless sequels like most horror movies these days.


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Pushes the boundaries of what Star Wars can be

Posted : 2 months, 4 weeks ago on 25 December 2016 07:09 (A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

"The world is coming undone. Imperial flags reign across the galaxy."

A lot was riding on 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it restarted the live-action Star Wars saga, which is now controlled by the Walt Disney Corporation. But 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is equally important, as it kicks off Disney's master plan for endless Star Wars spinoffs which focus on more minor side stories. It's not the first franchise detour (the animated Clone Wars movie landed in 2008, and there were Ewok telemovies in the 1980s), but it is the most significant, enjoying an enormous scope and bolstered by first-rate technical specs. This is a wholly different Star Wars, retaining the same sights, sounds and general iconography of the universe but achieving a much grittier tone than ever before. Rogue One is an out-and-out war movie, and thankfully the approach pays off, though pacing issues do emerge as a result of the overly intricate story.

An Imperial scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), tries to escape the clutches of the Empire by living a peaceful farming life, but Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) eventually catches up to him, demanding that he return to work. Although Krennic takes Galen hostage and kills his wife, Galen's daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) manages to avoid capture, and is adopted by rogue extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Growing up, Jyn hides her true identity from the Empire as she spends time in Imperial captivity until she's broken free by Rebellion spies, led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who intend to track down Galen. Jyn's father was instrumental in designing the Galactic Empire's new heavily-armed space station, the Death Star, and may hold the key to its destruction. Learning that the Death Star plans are stored at an Imperial outpost, Jyn and Cassian are joined by a rogue squadron of Rebels for their risky mission to steal the schematics, including android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), blind monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and warrior Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).

Instead of an opening crawl in the tradition of the series, Rogue One begins with a taut prologue which sets up the story more effectively than a block of text ever could. Co-written by Chris Weitz (2015's Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), this is a talky picture, running at over two hours and packing more than its fair share of exposition. Although director Gareth Edwards (2014's Godzilla) is able to maintain interest for the most part, the movie does hit its sluggish patches, lacking a thrilling sense of escalation. Put simply, the narrative should be brisker, as it's bogged down by subplots that don't seem necessary in the grand scheme of things. However, what's particularly laudable about Rogue One is the fact that this is a story about the minor cogs in the machine, as opposed to the big heroes who normally take centre stage in the Star Wars saga. Furthermore, Edwards touches upon the less glamorous aspects of the Rebel Alliance, as many of the soldiers are haunted by things they've done in the service of the Rebellion. This is one of several refreshing angles that Edwards manages to explore. Added to this, Rogue One perfectly ties into A New Hope, providing welcome new context for the events of the 1977 movie's iconic opening sequence. Fans can argue about the necessity of telling this story, but the deepening of the Star Wars mythology is fascinating nevertheless, making this feel like Episode III½.

Much like Edwards' Godzilla, there is a lot of build-up here, but it all pays off for an awe-inspiring finale that seriously delivers. Changing up the standard Star Wars backdrop to incorporate a tropical beach setting, the third act skirmish on the planet Scarif is gargantuan, involving shootouts as well as aerial combat, with loads of Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters and AT-ATs threatening the band of Rebels. The war scenes in the final act are far removed from what we've come to expect from a Star Wars movie (which is ironic, considering that "Wars" is in the title). Edwards draws upon Saving Private Ryan and a bit of Apocalypse Now to stage the hard-hitting battle scenes, which may be too brutal for young children. The outcome of the mission may be a foregone conclusion, but the specifics are not, and that's precisely why the climax is so engaging. The well-publicised reshoots did provoke concerns that Disney might dilute the movie, but the seams are never visible - Rogue One doesn't feel like a compromised vision. Instead, it's astonishingly cohesive throughout, sticking with a notably bleak tone all the way through to its powerful ending. It's certainly not as "safe" as some had feared.

As to be expected, Disney spared no expense bringing Rogue One to life, with the film carrying a rumoured $200 million price tag. The special effects are predictably impressive, and it helps that Edwards shoots for a heightened sense of immediacy. Commendably, Rogue One eschews the regular Star Wars aesthetics - it doesn't feature the standard transitions or an opening crawl, and it only makes infrequent use of recognisable soundtrack beats. Cinematography is darker than before, and it's mostly handheld, though this is not to the detriment of the movie since you can always comprehend what's happening during the action sequences. Furthermore, there is an impressive sense of tangibility to the fighter ships and Star Destroyers - it looks as if practical models were used as opposed to outright CGI, creating a more convincing illusion than digital effects ever could. However, the production does lack something in the way of visual panache, which comes from the decision to shoot the picture digitally, making it look less majestic than the celluloid photography of The Force Awakens. Interestingly, rumour has it that the original score was rejected for being too far removed from John Williams' iconic compositions, and composer Michael Giacchino had mere weeks to compose a new soundtrack. To his credit, the music is quite good on the whole, effectively accentuating the experience.

There is fan service throughout, with the movie even giving us a glimpse of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) on-screen for the first time since 1983's Return of the Jedi, leading to arguably the movie's best scene. Unused pilot footage from the Death Star assault in A New Hope is even employed, while the frame is often packed with recognisable droids hiding in the background that you may not notice on first viewing. However, less successful is the use of shonky digital effects to resurrect one deceased actor and de-age another. The intentions are noble, but often the result looks like something from a Pixar movie, instantly taking you out of the movie. It's 2016, surely they can do better than this.

Unfortunately, Rogue One falls short in terms of characterisation, as there's not enough depth or humanity to the ensemble. Jones manages to impress despite her one-dimensional role which feels like a plot device, but Luna is less successful as Cassian; he's one of the most disposable heroes in recent memory. Faring far better is Krennic, an inspired creation played to perfection by Australian actor Mendelsohn. Krennic is far more engaging than the typical villain, and he's actually given more dimension than the heroes of the story. Mendelsohn undoubtedly delivers the finest performance in the film, surpassing his co-stars with ease. With that said, though, Tudyk is an utter scene-stealer playing the droid K-2SO through motion-capture. A reprogrammed Imperial droid who speaks his mind, K-2SO is a constant source of amusement, delivering an armada of one-liners and a string of uproarious comments. Droids are a staple of the Star Wars universe, making it all the more exciting that this new creation is arguably the saga's finest to date. Meanwhile, Whitaker almost suffocates the movie with his ludicrous overacting, though Yen manages to carve out a memorable character despite his limited screen-time.

Flaws notwithstanding, Rogue One pushes the boundaries of what a Star Wars film can be, and that's seriously exciting for a long-running franchise like this. (The subtitle A Star Wars Story is actually absent from the film proper.) It succeeds in trying something different, never falling victim to the bland writing or poor direction which ultimately sunk the prequel trilogy. Due to its unique aesthetic and narrative approach, Rogue One is certainly more intriguing than The Force Awakens, but it's not necessarily better - J.J. Abrams' film was zippier and featured better, more fleshed-out characters. The bleakness of this first spinoff does mean that its replay value might be less than the norm for Star Wars, but that's precisely why it lingers in one's memory after it's all over. It also makes for a perfect companion piece to A New Hope. There are fears that Disney is going to run Star Wars into the ground, but if all future movies are on the same level as Rogue One or The Force Awakens, the House of Mouse can keep them coming.


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Above-average horror sequel

Posted : 3 months, 1 week ago on 12 December 2016 06:06 (A review of The Conjuring 2)

"Ed, this is as close to hell as I ever want to get."

After his ill-advised detour into blockbuster action with 2015's farcically cartoonish Furious 7, filmmaker James Wan returns to his usual stomping ground for The Conjuring 2, demonstrating yet again that his deft touch with contemporary horror is unparalleled. The follow-up to Wan's 2013 hit The Conjuring, which was one of the best horrors in some time, here we have another intricately-produced scary movie which is just as interested in character development as it is in concocting scares. Even though it's perhaps a bit too overblown for its own good (it does clock in at a hefty 130 minutes), The Conjuring 2 succeeds where it counts: it's a frightening, engaging horror backed by top-flight production values. And considering the usual standard for horror sequels, the mere fact that this follow-up isn't awful is a big deal.

Just as the first film was based on a (supposedly) real-life case, The Conjuring 2 sets its sights on the more well-known Enfield Poltergeist haunting in London, which has already been the subject of documentaries and dramatisations. In London, pre-teen girl Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) is being terrorised by the spirit of elderly man Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), who died in the council house some years ago and declares ownership from beyond the grave. The haunting terrifies the family, leaving single mother Peggy (Frances O'Connor) and her four children desperately seeking help. Meanwhile, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) opt to take a sabbatical from their work after Lorraine is plagued by visions of a malevolent demon nun, and of Ed's violent death. However, the church implores the Warrens to take a look at the Enfield case for them, to determine whether or not it's a hoax.

Although The Conjuring 2 is tagged as being based on a true story, one should always take such statements with a grain of salt; the screenplay (by returning scribes Carey and Chad Hayes) is heavily fictionalised for cinematic purposes, not to mention it introduces a Catholic nun demon that's personally tied to the Warrens. For window dressing, The Conjuring 2 concerns itself with the infamous Amityville haunting in its opening moments, as Lorraine conducts a séance inside the house where Ronald DeFeo Jr. mass-murdered his family. The Amityville case has, of course, served as the basis for multiple feature films, so the sequence here is short and sweet, intended only to reintroduce the Warrens and deepen their backstory. While a full-length Wan-directed treatment of the Amityville horror would certainly be enticing, this truncated approach was perhaps the wisest in the grand scheme of things. (Another long-delayed Amityville movie is set to land in 2017.)

Whereas the original Conjuring was designed as a PG-13 horror movie but received an R rating from the MPAA simply because it was deemed too scary, The Conjuring 2 was built from the ground upwards as an R-rated horror, though this doesn't mean Wan revels in gory indulgence. On the contrary, the Australian horror luminary still relies on suspense and tension, but he has more freedom when creating disturbing images and loud set-pieces. Wan and cinematographer Don Burgess have their craft down to a tee - timing and camerawork are magnificent here, and the big scary sequences are genuinely unsettling, backed by a tremendously creepy score by Joseph Bishara. One particularly hair-raising scene sees Lorraine being stalked in her home by a demonic nun whose painted likeness hangs on the wall, and there's a recurring motif involving a gangly-limbed nursery rhyme figure known as The Crooked Man. Although Wan doesn't create anything comparable to the unbearably tense game of hide and seek in the first Conjuring, his efforts are consistently focused here, and it's clear he didn't simply operate on autopilot. However, the climax is undeniably overkill, with a digital demon and a fair bit of destruction that's simply not necessary in the grand scheme of things. It's not a total bust, but it's not overly scary either; it's just too big and not tight enough.

The Conjuring 2 is certainly longer than the usual horror fare at over two hours, incorporating a number of scenes that have drawn criticism, including a bizarre moment involving Ed singing Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love." Be that as it may, Wan wisely uses the runtime to carve out identifiable characters, performed by a strong ensemble. Wilson and Farmiga pick up where they left off as the Warrens, coming across as warm and likeable. More notable here is young Madison Wolfe, who's a superb find. Espousing a convincing British accent (Wolfe is an American), she manages to convey fear and vulnerability without ever coming across as forced or unconvincing. It would be a tricky role even for seasoned adult actors, but Wolfe makes it look easy. Strong support is also provided by Frances O'Connor, while Simon McBurney makes a positive impression as Maurice, another paranormal investigator who's interested in the case.

With The Conjuring 2, Wan is now responsible for three horror franchises, not counting those he simply produced (Lights Out and Annabelle are getting sequels). Further Conjuring sequels are reportedly in development (beyond the spinoffs), and this is not a necessarily unwelcome prospect. Considering the quality of other modern horror franchises, we could certainly use more scary movies of this calibre. Fingers crossed, though, that Wan sticks around to direct the next one. All things considered, The Conjuring 2 is effective and entertaining enough to avoid becoming just another disposable sequel.


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Still Bad, still hilarious!

Posted : 3 months, 2 weeks ago on 9 December 2016 04:44 (A review of Bad Santa 2)

"Spare some change. Think about somebody besides your fucking self."

2003's Bad Santa was bona fide lightning in a bottle; a superior black comedy that managed to be roll-on-the-ground hilarious and even touching, not to mention it was the ideal antithesis of the usual Hollywood Christmas movie. It was a minor hit that developed a solid cult following, so now thirteen years later, we finally have a sequel, albeit one with a wholly different creative team at the helm. Bad Santa 2 may not be as quirky or as clever as its predecessor, but it still delivers in the laughs department in a big bad way. Frequently side-splitting, it's a sequel which thankfully retains the uncompromisingly dark spirit of its predecessor. Nevertheless, this is the type of motion picture which will divide viewers depending on their expectations, especially since the world has grown more politically-correct and averse to this brand of dark comedy.

Picking up over a decade after the original movie, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) still hasn't made anything of his life. A depressed, raging alcoholic, Willie is left only working menial jobs, none of which he can actually hang onto for very long, and his only friend is the staggeringly naïve, goofy Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly). But Willie is thrown a lifeline when he's contacted by his old partner Marcus (Tony Cox) with a proposition. Marcus plans to rob a Chicago-based charity to the tune of $2 million, and needs Willie's deft safecracking touch to get the job done. The money is too tempting for Willie to pass up, though he becomes even more reluctant to go through with the job after being confronted with his unsavoury mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), who's also in on the heist. It's a precarious trio, as Willie finds it impossible to trust his associates, and he gets easily distracted by the charity's attractive co-founder, Diana (Christina Hendricks).

The ending of the original Bad Santa did not leave many logical directions for a sequel to take. Indeed, Thornton stated that finding the right story was one of the reasons why it took so long for Bad Santa 2 to come to fruition (talks started as early as 2010). The plot is admittedly on the contrived side, but it works well enough to reunite the characters and provide an excuse for a barrage of gags and one-liners. A number of recent comedy sequels have suffered from overly dense plotting, making the more simplistic narrative of Bad Santa 2 rather refreshing - and it's agreeably brisk at 90 minutes. The screenplay (credited to newcomers Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross) runs with the same shtick which characterised the first movie. Thus, some might say that it's more of the same, but what else would you want from Bad Santa 2? Although not especially witty, there are more hits than misses in the laughs department here. The movie goes for broke; it's offensive, crude and vulgar, and almost every line is peppered with profanity. Luckily, the movie doesn't take the easy way out with a copout ending; rather, the conclusion is reminiscent of the original movie in terms of tone. Don't expect to see everybody hugging each other or learning about the real meaning of Christmas.

Steering the ship this time is director Mark Waters (Mean Girls), who acquits himself with the material quite admirably, displaying a firm grasp of comedic timing and always maintaining a rapid-fire pace. Not to mention the whole enterprise is, of course, backed by an array of seasonal songs. Bad Santa 2 is an excessively dark movie, even mean-spirited at times, which will prove to be polarising, and not all of the tonal changes are negotiated successfully. Produced for an understandably scant $26 million, the movie unfortunately carries the look of a Netflix production or a direct-to-video flick, rather than a big screen feature film. Whereas the original Bad Santa was shot on 35mm film stock and carried some honest-to-goodness cinematic style, this follow-up was lensed digitally, and looks exceedingly basic from a visual standpoint. (Let's not forget that the Coen Brothers were executive producers on the first movie.) On top of this, there's a fair bit of obvious, egregious product placement throughout.

Despite looking a bit gaunt and frail, Thornton slips back into the role of Willie as if no time has passed. This is one of the characters that Thornton was born to play, and he's fearless in his delivery of the profane material, reaching to offend as many people as possible. Also returning is Cox who's equally enthusiastic, while Kelly is all grown up as Thurman Merman. But Bates is the movie's secret weapon, and she absolutely goes for broke playing such a foul-mouthed character. As Willie's mother, it's clear the apple didn't fall far from the tree - Bates is always seen drinking, smoking, swearing, and even exclaims, "I don't speak politically correct!" Also new to the cast is Hendricks, whose interactions with Thornton are a frequent source of amusement.

At the end of the day, I simply cannot deny that Bad Santa 2 worked for me, because it did. I laughed until I cried. It's a rapid-fire succession of vulgar one-liners, swearing, colourful insults, and trashy sex scenes, and it's laudable that the filmmakers had the guts to create something so flagrantly offensive. Plus, for all of its base sensibilities, there are some scenes here that attempt to tug at the heartstrings and continue Willie's redemptive arc established in the original movie. The fact that Bad Santa 2 is actually funny is a big deal, especially after the tedious Zoolander 2 and the studiously mediocre Anchorman 2. Everybody else can watch It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street on Christmas Eve - I'll be over here doing a Bad Santa double feature with a bottle of bourbon.


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Gripping, emotive war film

Posted : 4 months, 1 week ago on 10 November 2016 11:26 (A review of Hacksaw Ridge)

"With the world so set on tearing itself apart, don't seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together."

With Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto under his directorial belt, Mel Gibson's track record as a filmmaker is second to none, and thankfully his staggering winning streak is confidently maintained with 2016's Hacksaw Ridge. Even though a decade has elapsed since Gibson's Apocalypto, he makes his return behind the camera without missing a beat, showing yet again why he seriously needs the opportunity to direct more movies. A stunningly vivid World War II picture, Hacksaw Ridge dramatises the heroic story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who determinedly set out to serve his country without ever picking up a weapon. Almost impossibly, Gibson transforms what could have been a preachy religious fable into a frequently gripping and emotive war film.

As a young boy, Desmond learned a valuable lesson about the true impact of violence when he nearly killed his brother, and, as a consequence, grows up to be a deeply religious, God-fearing man. Managing to court endearing nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), Desmond chooses to enlist in the United States Army with his brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic), much to the dismay of their alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who lost all of his friends in battle during WWI. Sent to basic training, Desmond proves to be an excellent recruit, but refuses to participate in rifle training as he sticks to his religious and moral beliefs, aspiring to serve only as a combat medic. This frustrates his platoon staff, with Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) hoping to break Desmond, while fellow recruits perceive him as a liability who might get them all killed. But Desmond's resolve cannot be broken, and after his training he's sent to battle in the Pacific theatre with the rest of his company. Desmond is really put to the test during the vicious battle of Hacksaw Ridge, where he remains determined to save as many men as he possibly can.

The screenplay, which was originally penned by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, has ample backstory to work through, and it's critical to note that this is more of a biography of Desmond as opposed to a more simplistic war movie. Despite a hefty 130-minute runtime, not a single frame feels superfluous here - if anything, the movie could've been longer. Every scene serves a purpose, developing Desmond's character, his romance with Dorothy and his home life, on top of depicting his experiences in the military. And miraculously, thanks to smart pacing and focused filmmaking, none of the build-up feels like homework. Additionally, whereas most dramas these days are grim and dour, Hacksaw Ridge is imbued with glorious gallows humour which feels entirely organic to the story and characters. Real-life soldiers do constantly crack jokes due to the nature of their job, after all, and Gibson recognises this. To be sure, not much dimension is given to the Japanese side, but such an angle is simply not necessary - it would have added too much narrative flab, and above all taken away from the story's central focus. The movie does observe Desmond being kind to the wounded Japanese, which is sufficient in this aspect.

Gibson is no stranger to war movies, but this is the filmmaker's first time tackling more modern warfare, with guns and canons rather than the swords and sandals of Braveheart. Frankly, it's a match made in cinematic heaven, leaving us to wonder why the hell it took so long for him to tackle this sort of thing. The combat sequences are a perfect fit for Gibson's ultraviolent tendencies, and he absolutely goes for broke here. Working with the freedom of an R rating, the notoriously bloody Battle of Okinawa is done justice on-screen, with the viscerally exciting bloodshed even topping the genre's granddaddy, 1998's Saving Private Ryan, in terms of sheer realism. Gibson underscores the fragility of human life on the battlefield, showing bodies being obliterated by explosions and bullets, yet it's executed with enough tact to prevent the movie from feeling like tasteless gore porn. Gibson does play up aspects of the fighting for dramatic effect, and there is some use of slow motion to underscore the gore and brutality, but it all works in the context of this story, and above all makes for thoroughly riveting viewing. Gibson thankfully relies more on practical effects, which creates a tangible aesthetic. It's apparent that some digital effects were used for blood, but it's never distracting or phoney. Hacksaw Ridge looks like a big-budget, $100 million blockbuster with its rich period detail and slick technical presentation, yet it was achieved for a scant $40 million.

Even though shooting on celluloid usually generates a richer cinematic texture for period films of this ilk, Simon Duggan's digital photography here is stunning nevertheless, and impeccably complemented by the exceptional original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. The battle sequences are captured with gorgeous finesse and steady camerawork, demonstrating that shaky-cam is not always needed in flicks like this, and allowing us to take in what's happening on-screen without getting a migraine. Contrary to what some of the foolish critics have decried, the graphic bloodshed is wholly necessary here, solidifying the story's core anti-war message, and above all emphasising Doss' sheer bravery on the battlefield. Indeed, watering down the violence would only dilute the movie's impact. Hacksaw Ridge is an unforgettable experience, inspecting Desmond's faith and love for God through his actions in battle, with nothing in the way of tedious sermonising.

Garfield was an awful Spider-Man, but he's superb as Desmond Doss, showing that his capable performances in 99 Homes and The Social Network were not just flukes. Espousing a thick but nevertheless convincing Southern accent, Garfield fully encompasses the role and never loses focus. Alongside him, Australian actress Palmer is endearing as Desmond's love interest, and it really works in the film's favour that the central romance is both believable and easy to become invested in. Meanwhile, Worthington makes for a believable military captain despite his inconsistent accent, and Vaughn steals his every scene as a dedicated sergeant. Vaughn has never had much luck in dramatic roles (True Detective, Psycho), but his character here is gifted with an arsenal of one-liners, and his towering figure lends him further credibility. Also worth mentioning is Weaving, who turns in a remarkable performance as Thomas Doss, essaying a pained alcoholic with impressive assurance. There's nary a weak link on the acting front, despite the distinct shortage of American thespians.

Affecting and powerful, Hacksaw Ridge is the movie of the year. It may be early into Oscar season, but there's no chance it will not be beaten - it's the greatest motion picture of 2016, and one of the best movies of the decade. The story of Desmond Doss absolutely needed to be told, and it's satisfying to behold such a phenomenal motion picture after many decades of attempts to get it made. Hacksaw Ridge may be corny at times, but Gibson commits to the material with utmost sincerity. The movie even closes with archival footage and interviews of the real people of this story, which serves as an effective footnote. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson's best movie to date, and that's a big call.


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A glorious action fiesta - but not without issues

Posted : 4 months, 3 weeks ago on 31 October 2016 02:46 (A review of Hardcore Henry)

"Like my father always said, a grenade a day keeps the enemy at bay."

The narrative thrust of 2016's Hardcore Henry is nothing out of the ordinary, but the "hook" is that it's a first-person action movie, shown entirely from the point of view of the titular cyborg. Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller makes his directorial debut here after making quite a splash online by testing the first-person technique in action-packed music videos which raised demand for a feature-length motion picture in the same vein. The result is fundamentally a 95-minute POV chase, with Naishuller staging as much first-person carnage as possible, from fisticuffs to shootouts to car chases. It should be an easy home run, but the experience is ultimately let down by an uninteresting story and too many tedious lulls between the action sequences.

Informed that he has been saved from certain death, Henry (played by several stuntmen) wakes up in mysterious high-tech facility with missing limbs and absolutely no memory of who he is. Coming into view is Estelle (Haley Bennett), who claims to be Henry's wife, and who finishes his rehabilitative operation by fitting him with robotic limbs. When the facility is attacked and Estelle is taken prisoner by telekinetic supervillain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), Henry goes on the run, pursued by dozens of Akan's heavily armed soldiers who seek to capture the special individual. The only person willing to help Henry is the rather strange Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who's capable of regenerating into countless different bodies and personalities, never remaining deceased for too long.

The big downfall of Hardcore Henry is the convoluted story, which puts a damper on the sense of fun throughout. It's often tricky to unravel the narrative, and more explanation would have been beneficial in the grand scheme of things. It's worth nothing that Henry cannot talk and his face is never properly seen, thus no actor actually portrays the character - instead, he was brought to life by a team of crazy stuntmen. (Writer-director Naishuller even plays Henry in some scenes.) Commendably, though, it's still possible to empathise with Henry and want to see him succeed in his mission. The big acting standout is Copley, who also executive produced the film. Copley assumes many different personas throughout (some more effective than others), allowing him to ham it up when the occasion calls for it, and he even performs a fun doppelgänger-filled musical performance of Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Meanwhile, Bennett does well as Estelle, and Kozlovsky (a Russian heartthrob superstar) makes for a sinister villain. Tim Roth even shows up in a minor role as Henry's father.

Produced for pocket change, Hardcore Henry was primary lensed using consumer-grade GoPro Hero 3 digital cameras, making for a rough-around-the-edges experience. With a team of eager stuntmen at his disposal, Naishuller orchestrates an over-the-top orgy of ultraviolence, pitting Henry against an endless supply of faceless goons who are beaten up, shot, and blown apart. Hardcore Henry is at its best during the fast-paced scenes of carnage, and Naishuller manages to vary the action sequences to sustain the picture's new car smell - on top of a standout sniper sequence and an insane car chase, there's even a set-piece involving a freaking tank, while helicopters and horses make appearances. Indeed, the movie is consistently creative in the action department, and Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" is even used during the climax. Editing is often choppy and fast, with plenty of cuts as opposed to a more seamless experience, but this does not significantly detract from the consistently impressive action scenes.

Hardcore Henry is definitely a film for a certain niche. It's excessive and ridiculously violent, and there's nothing in the way of subtlety on display, but it does its job well enough and emerges as something unique in a very crowded contemporary blockbuster marketplace. In spite of its story issues, there are enough violent highlights to render the movie worth watching, especially for action junkies seeking a fix.


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Uplifting and emotionally powerful

Posted : 4 months, 3 weeks ago on 31 October 2016 02:40 (A review of Pete's Dragon)

"You don't have to run anymore, Pete. You can stay with us."

2016's Pete's Dragon is a Disney movie through and through. It's a formulaic endeavour from a narrative perspective, and the characters are predominantly standard-order, including some antagonistic archetypes. In addition, it's a remake of a motion picture from 1977, and remakes are rarely necessary. But hell, I'll be damned if it doesn't work. Another step in Disney's grand plan to transform their animated catalogue into live-action movies (the original Pete's Dragon was only partially animated, mind you), this reimagining does away with all the singing, dancing and mugging in favour of a more dramatic, heartfelt feature. Pete's Dragon is simply enchanting; an incredibly poignant and engrossing family film with shades of E.T. that was clearly assembled by a passionate team of filmmakers who set out to do more than just cash in a paycheque.

Orphaned as a young boy after a car crash left him stranded deep in the wilderness, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is befriended by a furry, kind-hearted dragon who seeks to protect the boy. Naming the dragon Elliot, Pete manages to make a home for himself away from civilisation, but the forest becomes threatened by a logging company overseen by the steely Gavin (Karl Urban). While running around one day, Pete is discovered by friendly local forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who seeks to take the young lad home to her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) and fiancée Jack (Wes Bentley). Pete is suddenly ripped away from his beloved friend, with nobody believing that Elliot actually exists, except for Grace's father Meacham (Robert Redford), who has long spoken about a brief encounter with big green dragon. As Pete bonds with Grace and her family, Gavin grows determined to capture Elliot for all the world to see.

Whereas any number of remakes are arguably unnecessary, Pete's Dragon is a premise ripe for reinterpretation, and it is in good hands under co-writer/director David Lowery, who has spent many years as a writer, director and editor of small-time indie features and shorts. It was a bold move on Disney's part to give Lowery a shot over a more experienced filmmaker, but the gamble pays off - the movie bursts with genuine passion, feeling like far more than just another paint-by-numbers visual effects blockbuster. It's a dramatic and meditative film, even opening with a heartbreaking sequence depicting the tragic car wreck that strands Pete in the wilderness where he meets Elliot. Even though it's a familiar story, Pete's Dragon works because it's an extremely competent version of an age-old tale of a boy and his wondrous companion.

Shot in idyllic New Zealand locations, the film looks magnificent, bolstered by Bojan Bazelli's eye-catching cinematography and Daniel Hart's touching original score. Fortunately, the adults are not portrayed as unfeeling or negligent, and the child characters aren't cloying, making this a rare family movie which respects its audience. Performances across the board are strong, with young Fegley in particular making a positive impression as Pete, sharing wonderful chemistry with Laurence. Howard is amiable as Grace, but Redford is even better, espousing endless charm and warmth. Urban's role is a bit too cliché, but the actor acquits himself well enough. As for Elliot, the dragon is brought to vivid life by way of marvellous digital effects, and it helps that the design of the creature is agreeably unique - you won't mistake Elliot for Smaug or one of the dragons from Game of Thrones.

With Pete's Dragon, The BFG and Kubo and the Two Strings, it seems that 2016 is the year of heartfelt family movies that nobody bothered to see. Whatever flaws exist in the screenplay are compensated for in the top-flight execution, and it's wonderful to see a Disney film that manages to be uplifting and emotionally powerful, devoid of cheap theatrics and computer-generated artifice.


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Old-fashioned cowboy flick

Posted : 5 months, 1 week ago on 16 October 2016 10:19 (A review of The Magnificent Seven)

"I seek righteousness. But I'll take revenge."

2016’s The Magnificent Seven is the very definition of "pretty good." It's not perfect, and it doesn't transcend or reinvent the Western genre, but it's a confident old-fashioned cowboy flick bolstered by competent filmmaking and an enormously likeable ensemble cast. A remake of the iconic 1960 western of the same name, The Magnificent Seven reunites director Antoine Fuqua with Training Day actors Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, and though there isn't much in the way of depth or subtext, the resulting flick is easy to enjoy. Not to mention, it's arguably a few notches above the last classic Western remake (2010's True Grit).

Set in the late 19th Century, the remote town of Rose Creek is being bled dry by the ruthless, iron-fisted industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who seeks to continue amassing riches by setting up a gold-mining operation. When Bogue begins killing the residents of Rose Creek to scare them into moving, the recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) sets out to find help, and happens upon skilled warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Washington). Convincing the stranger to help repel Bogue, Chisolm assembles a team for the fight ahead, including wise-cracking rapscallion Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), skilled tracker Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) as well as former soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke) and his Oriental partner Billy (Byung-hun Lee). Clearing the area of Bogue’s enforcers, the squad begin preparing for all-out war, and work to train the remaining townspeople to fight for their town.

Any remake is met with a certain amount of public outcry on principal alone, though some have been able to overlook this in the case of The Magnificent Seven since the original John Sturges-directed film was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai. Here's the thing: The Magnificent Seven isn't exactly sacred like, say, the Dollars trilogy or Rio Bravo, and even though the 1960 picture is a terrific, crowd-pleasing Western, there is certainly room to reinterpret the malleable premise. Naturally, with the film carrying a reported $90 million price tag, it looks impressive from top to bottom, with meticulous production design and lavish 35mm cinematography giving vivid life to the Old West. (Even though lighting is a touch too dark at times, and some of the digital effects shots are obvious.) This is the last score to be written by the late James Horner, and it's a real standout, carrying many of the composer's trademark flourishes, including a rousing reprisal of the original movie's iconic theme.

Fuqua continues to show that he's one of the better guys in Hollywood when it comes to making unadulterated guy movies aimed at an adult audience, standing alongside the likes of Joe Carnahan and David Ayer. There are various skirmishes scattered throughout the movie, but the climax is something else; the story culminates with a spectacularly explosive extended action sequence, finding Fuqua in his element, directing the hell out of the carnage. Carrying a PG-13 rating, the film certainly has its brutal moments, but Fuqua doesn't dwell on the gruesome details as much as he usually does. A full-blooded R-rated version might have been interesting, but The Magnificent Seven simply doesn't need extreme levels of blood, especially since classic cowboy pictures were mostly bloodless. And even though this remake plays out with an action blockbuster sensibility, Fuqua refuses to show sentimentality towards the characters, even the leads. Nobody is invincible, even though bad guys go down after a single bullet or arrow while the heroes can keep going after getting shot multiple times.

The Magnificent Seven could have been a simple, pared-down 80-minute actioner, but it runs a hefty 130 minutes, displaying adequate patience in the build-up to the climactic shootout. Penned by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and Nic Pizzolatto (TV's True Detective), it's possible to grow to care about the characters, and appreciate them for their respective limitations and qualities. There's plenty of clever interplay and bantering, too, which further humanises the titular seven. Above all, there are real stakes here; it's easy to become invested in the story. Nevertheless, the film lacks the underlying themes of the original movie, which explored the hollowness of life as a gun for hire. There's nothing much going on beneath the surface here beyond its black-and-white views on villainy and morality. Perhaps this was a deliberate move to make for a more refreshing, easily-digestible action flick, but the film nevertheless feels hollow on the whole.

It almost goes without saying, but the cast here doesn't match the pure badassery of the original film, which had Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn - just to name a few - but the new selection of actors are effective nevertheless. Although it seems as if the producers were consciously working through an ethnicity checklist for maximum international box office appeal, the diversity actually allows each of the characters to stand out with their own distinctive characteristics and skills. Leading the pack is Washington, who's confident and charismatic as a highly-trained gunslinger, while Hawke gets more dramatic material to chew on as a disillusioned soldier who's haunted by the horrors of the Civil War. Meanwhile, it seems as if Pratt has been practicing his whole life to play a cowboy, and he relishes the opportunity, delivering an agreeably idiosyncratic performance. The other members of the titular team hit their marks respectively, and they all share a believable chemistry. As for Sarsgaard, he sinks his teeth into this villainous role, with a hamminess reminiscent of Western antagonists from old Hollywood pictures. Out of the Rose Creek residents, Bennett makes the biggest impression as the fiery widow, while the rest of the townsfolk are expendable.

For those seeking an entertaining latter-year blockbuster, The Magnificent Seven should scratch your itch. Although not an instant classic able to sit alongside Unforgiven or Open Range, it is a thrilling ride nevertheless, more in line with recent endeavours like 2015's Bone Tomahawk or the insanely underrated The Salvation. It's also nowhere near as good as Seven Samurai, but who the hell expected it to be in the first place? Flaws and all, The Magnificent Seven is primo entertainment.


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PvtCaboose91 added 1 item to Top 5 Shark Movies list
The Shallows

It's so relieving to see another good contemporary shark movie, one which actually had proper funding and studio involvement behind it. This isn't another shitty B-grade shark flick, but a skilfully-crafted thriller with terrific shark effects and a wonderful leading lady in Blake Lively. And it looks beautiful to boot. It does get a bit too Hollywood towards the end, but it's still a lot of fun. [youtube id=EgdxIlSuB70]

6 days, 2 hours ago
PvtCaboose91 voted for an image

6 days, 23 hours ago
PvtCaboose91 posted a review of Blood Father

Thrilling action film with genuine humanity

“"I got no idea how you piss guys like that off..."

Mel Gibson's first star vehicle since the insanely underrated Get the Gringo all the way back in 2012, Blood Father is far more than just another subpar straight-to-video action flick. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter Craig” read more

6 days, 23 hours ago
PvtCaboose91 posted 25 images [View All]

6 days, 23 hours ago
PvtCaboose91 commented on a list
Remake? HELL NO! (18 movies items)

"Martyrs was a pretty awful remake didn't capture the essence of the original at all. Wait, it actually came out? I didn't know... It's funny to see that Magnificent Seven was remade once again. Good m"

1 week ago
PvtCaboose91 posted a list
1 week, 1 day ago
Blood Father
The Magnificent Seven
Hell or High Water
The Accountant
The Nice Guys

1 week, 1 day ago
PvtCaboose91 commented on a list
Remake? HELL NO! (18 movies items)

"Yep, shark flicks are not often very good but I quite enjoyed it. Good shark VFX, nice Australian locales, taut story."

1 week, 1 day ago
1 week, 3 days ago
PvtCaboose91 added 1 item to Movies Viewed in 2017 list
Kong: Skull Island
First Viewing Viewing Date: March 13th Via: Cinema Plot: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
1 week, 3 days ago
PvtCaboose91 posted a image

1 week, 6 days ago
Hacksaw Ridge
When The Order Came To Retreat, One Man Stayed. Plot: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

With Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto under his directorial belt, Mel Gibson's track record as a filmmaker is second to none, and thankfully his staggering winning streak is confidently maintained with 2016's Hacksaw Ridge. Even though a decade has elapsed since Gibson's Apocalypto, he makes his return behind the camera without missing a beat, showing yet again why he seriously needs the opportunity to direct more movies. A stunningly vivid World War II picture, Hacksaw Ridge dramatises the heroic story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who determinedly set out to serve his country without ever picking up a weapon. Almost impossibly, Gibson transforms what could have been a preachy religious fable into a frequently gripping and emotive war film.

[youtube id=s2-1hz1juBI] "With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don't seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together."

1 week, 6 days ago
1 week, 6 days ago
PvtCaboose91 added 1 item to Movies Viewed in 2017 list
The Apparition
First Viewing Viewing Date: March 9th Via: Netflix Plot: A couple is haunted by a supernatural presence that is unleashed during a college experiment.
1 week, 6 days ago
2 weeks, 1 day ago
Summer Heights High
Viewed: All 8 Episodes

Here's a TV show that was heavily publicised in Australia when it first aired, but I never got around to watching. Summer Heights High only ran for one season, only eight episodes, and yet has made a big impression in Australian culture due to its astute depiction of high school life, as well as its sharp writing and quirky characters. Playing the three central characters is Chris Lilley, who seems to be able to come up with a new character/personality/voice at the drop of a hat, and the show must be commended for being so defiantly un-PC. I laughed consistently. I can see myself re-watching this one again and again in years to come. Shame it took me so long to see it, but I'm glad I finally did.

2 weeks, 1 day ago
2 weeks, 4 days ago
PvtCaboose91 added 1 item to Movies Viewed in 2017 list
The Last Unicorn
First Viewing Viewing Date: March 4th Via: DVD Plot: A brave unicorn and a magician fight an evil king who is obsessed with attempting to capture the world's unicorns.
2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Posted: 4 weeks ago at Feb 23 3:32
Just stopped by here & very glad to see you enjoyed The Witch, Split, and especially the excellent Hell Or High Water. :)
Posted: 1 month, 1 week ago at Feb 9 3:17
Hi please check my list
and tell me your 10 favorite tv shows!
Posted: 1 month, 4 weeks ago at Jan 24 14:44
Would you be interested in helping me with one of my lists?

You just have to go the following link and provide your 10 favorite movies : http://www.listal.com/list/listals-100-films-see-before-9773

Thanks in advance!
Posted: 5 months, 1 week ago at Oct 11 20:56
Dude, I really dug 'Nightfall'. Seems like you've really come a long way, and it shows in the production value and storytelling. The best in both departments on this one. Better action, too. Some awesome angles and shots, not to mention. Seems as if you were going for a dark noir/thriller here, opposed to straight up action fiesta, which was also effective in it's own right. Two more bullet points; I thought you chose a great leading lady, (Ashley Shaw?) and found the soundtrack to be mightily effective.

Either way, I had a great time with it, man. Sure, take some time off, but not too much time! "

:) Cheers, Mate!
Posted: 5 months, 2 weeks ago at Oct 9 22:43
Sweet, man! I'm looking forward to checking that out tonight.

Good work, brother, You're making it!
Posted: 7 months, 1 week ago at Aug 18 3:26
Glad to see you highly enjoyed Green Room. Quite an impressive film & easily among my favorites for this year.
Posted: 10 months, 4 weeks ago at Apr 29 15:45
At last! I'm finally done with this list...
Thanks again for your help.

If you are interested, you can check the end-result :
Listal's 100 Films To See Before You Die (2016)
Posted: 11 months ago at Apr 27 6:16
Hey there! I was going to check it out a couple months back, didn't have the 2 dollars at the time, though. I know.....

I'll head back there, and seriously, keep on keeping on man! You seem like you're moving up that ladder.
Posted: 11 months, 3 weeks ago at Apr 2 11:49
Thanks for your help! The list has been updated :
Posted: 1 year, 1 month ago at Feb 5 15:16
Yes, it is once again time for our yearly tradition. What is the best movie, according to you, Listal member? What are you waiting for?!? VOTE!!!!

Posted: 1 year, 2 months ago at Jan 9 15:51
Thanks for the list vote!
Posted: 1 year, 3 months ago at Nov 29 21:26
Thanx 4 your vote : )))
Posted: 1 year, 4 months ago at Oct 30 8:16
YEEEE! Awesome, man. I'll make it my feature for tomorrow night :) Congrats on keeping on dawg!
Posted: 1 year, 6 months ago at Sep 20 5:30
Hey! sorry man, been dealing with other odd life things lately. I watched the trailer a couple days ago, had a fun time with it. You've really improved since your last film, and clearly enhanced your abilities. When will the feature length version be released? I'm looking forward to it!
Posted: 1 year, 6 months ago at Sep 6 17:10
Hey! Yeah, still alive, just logging onto Listal pretty rarely these days, just using it to rate movies and check out the occasional list. Life goes on, I guess, hehe.
Posted: 1 year, 8 months ago at Jul 14 20:41
Hi, check out my latest list:
The Evolution of Michiel Huisman!
Posted: 1 year, 8 months ago at Jul 9 4:04
Any details brotha? he he
Posted: 1 year, 8 months ago at Jul 8 20:37
That's great news! I was pretty stoked obviously to see your tweets about working on another film. Hope it all goes well.
Posted: 1 year, 9 months ago at Jun 9 14:27
Very cool write-up on the Arnold event. Thanks for sharing it! I haven't watched any of the Terminator sequels past the 2nd & still don't have any urge to, and it's sounding like I won't miss too much if I skip this one too.
Posted: 1 year, 9 months ago at Jun 6 14:40
thanx 4 your vote Pvt :)

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