The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Compared to the truly magnificent 1960 original, this unlooked for western remake is unsurprisingly inferior. But after a summer of poor blockbuster fare, it’s passable entertainment in its own way.

Unburdened by any more ambition than a broad desire to be please, the film trots through the familiar story of a small posse of cowboys facing overwhelming odds.

There’s a liberal lifting of scenes and dialogue from the John Sturges version and a cheeky play of Elmer Bernstein’s majestic original score over the end credits. The new main score by the late James Horner is monumentally forgettable.

Reasons for watching include handsome photography, great period design and the no shortage of old school action. There are real sets, stuntmen and horses instead of CGI fakery. The $100M budget is all on screen.

Traditional western themes of comradeship, courage and loyalty are wrapped up in a glossy tale of redemption. This is an optimistic vision of how the US could still be won, with a rainbow society trying to overcome corporate greed and restore the church to the centre of civic life. This last point will resonate with US conservative Christians, a larger and more influential congregation across the pond than here in the UK.

Headliners Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are clearly enjoying themselves and their combined charisma is the film’s biggest strength. Vincent D’Onofrio adds more humour as a tracker, a fool who speaks truth to power.

The casting attempts to accurately reflect the ethnic mix of contemporary US, and presumably hopes to attract the audience which makes the multi-ethnic Fast Furious franchise such a global success. So the remaining gunslingers are respectively Chinese, Mexican and Native American. Sadly they’re so poorly scripted, their race is pretty much the extent of their characterisation. One is described as an assassin but they may as well have gone the whole hog and called him a ninja.

Washington stars as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, hired by a young widow who needs protection from a corrupt industrialist. Haley Bennett offers true grit as Emma, the only female speaking role of note.

It’s a shame there aren’t a few more women in the movie, or even – gasp – in the seven. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Natalie Portman’s Jane’s Got A Gun featured strong willed gun-toting women. We could have done with more similarly natured women here.

Although Emma plays a small but crucial role, she definitely is not part of the all-male gang. As it is, she barely qualifies as the female Smurf. Amid all the back slapping diversity, fifty percent of the population are woefully under-represented. Except for whores, who are everywhere.

Chisolm has a personal reason for taking the job and recruits collection of desperadoes and misfits to defend the gold mining town. They include Pratt’s gambler and Hawke’s PSTD suffering civil war veteran.

Through a suitably sweeping landscape we move briskly from one action scene to another. The action is staged with occasional invention but at times the geography is unclear. This is especially true in the finale where our heroes face almost insurmountable odds and a seemingly infinite supply of ammunition. Until the smoke cleared I wasn’t sure exactly who had survived.

Peter Sarsgaard sketches without light or shade his consumptive black hearted villain, Bartholomew Bogue. He mostly acts apart from the Seven and with the protagonist isolated there’s a sense the film isn’t terribly interested in him. Consequently nor are we very much.

For long periods it’s agreeable crowd pleasing stuff. We’re reasonably entertained but never roused or excited. This not a disaster such as the recent Ben-Hur remake is, but it is quite far from magnificent.



Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow (2015)

Strap yourself in for a prehistoric thrill-ride of fearsome fun as the theme park dinosaurs return in this bone-snapping action sequel.

Despite being very familiar this is a supremely confident and wildly entertaining monster movie, a determinedly old fashioned, family-friendly adventure with no sex, drugs, booze or rock and roll swearing to scare the parents.

Filmed on a budget conservatively guesstimated at a monstrous $150million, it’s a fast-paced and smartly scripted blend of expert SFX, exciting action and lovely comic moments. It’s everything last year’s Godzilla should have been but wasn’t.

Twenty years on from Jurassic Park (1993) Jurassic World is Jurassic Park IV in all but name. Rather than hiding from or ignoring the original film by rebooting the franchise, it openly and affectionately embraces it’s memory.

Dialogue openly refers to the previous disaster and T shirts and jeeps from the original park are incorporated into the action.

The central mall of the park is named after the avuncular scientist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) who first extrapolated the dinosaur DNA from amber leading, to the resurrection of the dinosaurs.

It’s set once again on the idyllic tropical island of Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica. A new Jurassic World theme park has risen from the cold bones of the old one.

It’s bigger, glossier holiday experience with scientists experimenting with genetics to create beasts that are larger, more deadly and more cool. This maintains audience interest and attendance, boosts profits and keeps the shareholders happy.

Uptight corporate chief Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park operations manager in charge of the safety of 20,000 customers. They are ferried around on monorails not dissimilar to the youthful utopia of Logan’s Run (1976).

Claire is horrified when avarice and hubris combine to unleash a Frankenstein’s monster to destroy this Babel of vacationing people.

The new star attraction Indominus rex escapes it’s heavily-guarded compound and rampages across the island towards the unsuspecting holidaymakers.

Genetically modified Indominus is driven by carnal desires to eat, hunt and mate. Fashioned in a test tube and reared in isolation, the beast is essentially insane; a reflection of the minds of those who created her.

It represents humanity gone wild, similar to the creature of the Id from Disney’s Forbidden Planet (1956).

Adding to her woes, Claire’s two young nephews Zach and Grey (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins) are lost on the island.

So she recruits hunky velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help her rescue them, defeat the beasts and restore the ordained natural order.

Employed as a dinosaur whisperer with his own pack of semi-trained velociraptors, Grady’s a tequila-loving, board-short sporting dude who lives in a beachside shack and repairs classic motorbikes in his spare time.

Meanwhile head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) sees a financial opportunity in the chaos.

There’s a lot of bone crunching action as various red-shirts are despatched and the customers take a beating from mother nature in the form of  brilliantly rendered dinosaurs.

The work of dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett is brought magnificently to life by the effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic. Both worked extensively on the original film.

After his work on time-travel flick Safety Not Guaranteed the director Colin Trevorrow was handpicked by executive producer and director of Jurassic Park I and II, Steven Spielberg.

Barrelling through his story, the young protege has clearly been studying his master’s work. He fills the film with lovely moments using dripping blood and reflective surfaces to provide slow reveals and create tension. Plus he has a nice line in jokey misdirection.

An extensive sound department provide a terrific range of prehistoric roars and wince-inducing snapping and crunching noises.

There are quibbles if you want them. Official walkie-talkies frequently go on the fritz but cell phones work perfectly.

Though broken-family resolution is a common theme in most of Spielberg’s work, women’s careers, childlessness and impending divorce are directly identified here as the reasons for placing the boys in peril.

Based on the film’s trailer, Avengers director Joss Whedon’s offered unsolicited comments of Jurassic World’s presumed hoary sexist stereotypes. But his ‘she’s a stiff, he’s a life force‘ criticism is unfair and ill-judged

Whedon may have more justification being irked at the similarity the tech-savvy character Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) has to space-pilot Wash in his sci-fi adventure Serenity (2005).

B.D. Wong is the only original cast member credited with returning but I believe there’s a one-line cameo from a now very famous face – if appearing only in silhouette.

There’s an unfortunate informal hierarchy among the supporting cast is but I doubt this is the result of any racism in the script/casting – more of an insight into the relative value the producer’s place on the different markets in the global market place.

It’s no reflection on the actor’s involved China and Asia are clearly more important markets than Africa.

While Indian actor Irrfan Khan appears as slick billionaire Simon Masrani and Asian-American B. D. Wong plays brilliant scientist Dr. Henry Wu, French-Senegalese Omar Sy is lumbered with playing Owen’s colleague Barry, an example of a ‘black best friend’ role recently derided by Brit actor David Oyewolo.

For a film set in Central America and filmed in Hawaii, there’s a lack of local faces except for a young, bored and undertrained ride operative.

It’s worth noting the script doesn’t suggest wealth and intelligence is a guarantor of morality.

As the self-confessed alpha male Grady, Pratt reins in the juvenile cocky exuberance from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and is all the more engaging for it.

He’s well cast in a role that demands he be smart, funny, charming and rugged; a leading man and action hero. It’s a shame then his character development is non-existent. He’s exactly the same at the beginning as at the end.

However his sparring partner Claire goes through a fundamental change through her experiences.

Beginning in a flawless starched white uniform and ending with a far more organic look, Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron) essays her character from perfectly presented management wonk to a gun-toting lioness and defender of her young.

Howard and Pratt share an enjoyable chemistry that is closer to squabbling jungle adventurers Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1982) rip-off Romancing The Stone (1984).

Without doubt the second best in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World is also the third best Indiana Jones movie.

It could easily be read as an extended audition by Pratt for a mooted reboot of Raiders (directed by Spielberg), donning the fedora of Harrison Ford as the whip-cracking professor Indiana Jones.

There’s a subplot where the military want to co-opt the scientific work and use it to replace soldiers and drones with dinosaurs. (A pigeon was awarded the Victoria Cross in WWII so it’s possibly not even the military’s most stupid moment.)

With a direct reference to The War on Terror, heavily armed soldiers are flown in and use an ops room for remote attacks as they try assert their dominance over nature.

Grady’s attempt to thwart the army’s desire to weaponise genetically modified dinosaurs is no different in essence to Indiana Jones racing to prevent Nazi’s using the Ark of the Covenant to win WWII. Both seek to use powers they can’t fathom.

Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park became the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) before being superseded in turn by Titanic (1997).

Two more sequels followed: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) though only the first sequel was directed by Spielberg.

Unsurprisingly neither were as groundbreaking, well-received or as successful as the first. 

In 1996 Universal Studios opened in Universal Studios Hollywood and now following the recent fad for theme park rides turned movies, Tomorrowland, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s now evolved into a movie again.

As a summer entertainment this meaty monster movie will be sure to tear chunks out of the box office competition.

The Lego Movie

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (2014)

Despite the astonishing Oscar snub, this is a brilliant, witty, inventive animation which kids will enjoy almost as much as their parents will.

As the opening song says, ‘Everything is Awesome!!!’. And it is. It’s stupid in a clever way, clever in a funny way and is continually exciting, hilarious and even subversive.

Assembled with huge energy and a wicked sense of fun, every brick of the plot is correctly placed to support the dizzying flights of imagination and yet more jokes.

During the ferocious chase scenes random street parts are rapidly fashioned into vehicles, destroyed and rebuilt into  succession of err, other vehicles.

Among the mayhem it even manages to visually referencing sci-fi classics such as Tron and The Matrix.

Brickburg is a modern plastic city with busy roads, extortionately priced of coffee and constant CCTC surveillance. Everyone and everything fits together and works correctly.

When construction worker Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) has an accident, he loses his vital rule book but discovers the Piece of Resistance.

Arrested by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) he is freed by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who believes him to be the prophesied ‘special’.

Only the Piece of Resistance can prevent the tyrannical President Business (Will Ferrell) from using his super-weapon called the Kragle to destroy the Lego universe.

Emmet and Wyldstyle set out to to prevent the President’s evil plan and are helped by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and other Master Builders.

They include famous lego–made characters who help make this the second best Batman movie and the fourth best Star Wars film.

Naturally enough the film emphasises the importance of invention and bonding but to say more will spoil the fantastic and emotional twist towards the end.

In a word, awesome.


Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn (2014)

The strangest group of heroes Marvel comics ever created blast off into space in this visually sensational sci-fi action adventure.

They’re a mismatched motley alien crew consisting of an Earthling called Peter (Chris Pratt), a beautiful green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a genetically-engineered raccoon called Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel).

It is a fun-filled knockabout romp with stellar design, tremendous special effects and CGI characters blending seamlessly with the real actors.

But it’s gratingly pleased with itself but nowhere near as funny or as smart as it believes itself to be.

It takes far too much juvenile pleasure in rude words and drowning scenes with 1970’s pop tunes quickly wears thin – an unusually needy and heavy-handed attempt at cross-audience, all quadrant appeal by the mighty Marvel studio.

The self styled Star-lord and deluded scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a kid and raised by intergalactic thieves known as the Ravagers.

He hasn’t a lot of experience fighting or leading or coming up with plans. Or having ideas in general. In fact, he’s not all that smart. Plus, generally unskilled.

Nevertheless he manages to steal an orb of mysterious power which is also wanted by the psychotic Ronan (Lee Pace) who secretly works for the powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin). who wants the orb to wage war on his enemies.

Quill is thrown into a space-prison called The Kyln where he meets a warrior called Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who has sworn vengeance on Ronan.

In a fantastic action sequence they break out alongside Gamora, Rocket, Groot and a spare leg but the script shoots itself in the foot in a space-walk sequence which drains the rest of the film of tension.

When Quill discovers the true danger of the orb he discovers the hero inside himself and cajoles the squabbling misfits to fight a desperate and spectacular battle to guard the galaxy against destruction.

Much like the Hulk in Avengers Assemble, Groot steals every scene he’s in, despite only being able to say the words ‘I am Groot’ – which to be fair, is as much as the Hulk ever managed.

British actress and former Dr Who star Karen Gillan is impressively agile and deliciously villainous and shares a history and a terrific fight scene with Gamora.

Pratt is less endearing than the film supposes and his reprising of a peril-inspired song and dance routine similar to which he performed in The Lego Movie wears thin here.

Guardians of the Galaxy is entertaining enough though not Marvel’s finest hour; after The Winter Soldier it’s not even Marvel’s best film of 2014.

And the joke at the end of the film’s credits isn’t worth hanging around for.