The western, or “Shoot ‘em ups” as my grandfather calls them, was once America’s most popular and profitable movie genre. But after the days of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, America moved on to science fiction and buddy cop movies, leaving the old west behind. Now, even the best westerns get little love. So, here comes Denzel Washington to the rescue along with Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) to try and revitalize the genre with a remake of The Magnificent Seven.
The original Magnificent Seven (1960) is itself an old west retelling of a (superior) Japanese film called The Seven Samurai. Both tell the story of a group of seven outlaws who band together to defend a small town from bandits. This new film carries the same premise with Denzel stepping into the lead role as a bounty hunter recruited by a widow (Haley Bennett) to save her town from a wealthy land thief (Peter Sarsgard). Rounding out the seven cowboys are a snarky gambler (Chris Pratt), a former soldier (Ethan Hawke) and his assassin friend (Byung-Hun Lee), a Mexican fugitive (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier), and a comedic old timer with a proclivity for chucking axes (Vincent D’Onofrio).
The premise was fresh to audiences in the 1960’s, but here it feels cliché from the pacing to the characters. The dialogue, the camera work, and even the gunslinging all ends up feeling like a generic western. The often cartoonish nature of a few scenes make the overall product seem like a summer blockbuster version of something meant to be a little bit more thought provoking (see the Japanese original).
But there is certainly some enjoyment to be had. As always, Denzel Washington commands every scene he’s in. Chris Pratt, through a relatively weak cowboy accent, does provide a few laughs even though his character is just an 1800’s version of Star Lord. And overall the camaraderie of the seven men is felt even if it is rushed through. As for the loud, often over the top and formulaic action, it’s hard to not find it entertaining. So even if Magnificent Seven isn’t fresh or memorable like Quentin Tarentino’s Hateful Eight, it is a relatively fun two hour romp filled with the guns, explosions and bravado that make the genre worth watching.
FINAL GRADE: C+
There’s something beautiful about stories of survival against the odds. It hasn’t been very long since January 15th, 2009 and the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullinberger’s heroic water landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 is still fresh on many of our minds. Movies like this write themselves, but it still takes a good cast and a quality narrative to make a great story into a great film.
2013’s Captain Phillips was enough evidence that Tom Hanks is the perfect leading man for a film like this. Hanks plays Sully in the stressful aftermath after he and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) land Flight 1549 in the Hudson River following a sudden bird strike that leaves the plane with both engines inoperable. While Sully and Skiles navigate press conferences and media appearances hailing them as heroes, an investigation is underway that makes them question if their decision to make the emergency landing was the correct one.
Things could’ve been pieced a little better, and it’ll probably irk a few government folks to see the National Transportation Safety Board portrayed as antagonists, but all in all, Sully comes off as an endearing film about a true hero. Hanks plays the lead role with a shy nobility that makes Sullingberger somehow even more likable. Aaron Eckhart does an equally fine job as Sully’s faithful wing man. The dialogue in the film is also acutely poignant throughout whether it’s from the lead actors or the supporting cast in limited screentime.
The plane crash scene is as heart pounding as one would think, although I would’ve loved to see it at the climax of the film. The actual climax, however, is a solid think piece on how we as calculated humans should sometimes forget about protocol and measure our humanity and how it affects every situation. The real Sullingberger is the true definition of a hero, and this film does his story justice and makes the “Miracle of the Hudson” feel that much more surreal.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Poor mothers. They live for us, would die for us, and yet we aren’t always as gratifying to them as we should be during our awkward adolescent years. So a movie where moms get to cut back and have some fun should be a welcomed concept for not just the moms out there, but for anyone who has ever had a mother figure. Add some raunchy ‘R’ rated flavor to the mix and we’ve got ourselves a surprisingly fun movie in Bad Moms.
Mila Kunis, who stills looks the same age she did in That 70’s Show, plays lead mom, Amy; a mother of a brainy girl too concerned about college while still in junior high and a son who is too lazy to apply himself. Dealing with kids and a boss that don’t appreciate her (Clark Duke), and a deadbeat husband (David Walton), Amy finally decides that enough is enough. With the help of a negligent, promiscuous mother of one (Kathryn Hahn) and an uptight, overstressed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), Amy decides to be a bad mom and do what she wants for once. Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Annie Mumolo co-star as a trio of snooty, sinister PTA moms hell bent on making Amy and her friends conform.
At times, the story falls dangerously close to being as over-the-top corny as The Boss. Moments like a destructive trip to the grocery store come off as more cartoonish than outright funny and some of the characters like Jay Hernandez’s overly perfect love interest to Amy are about as realistic as a talking sponge. Most of the movie’s laughs are when it isn’t trying to be gut bustingly funny. The banter between the women, usually when driven by Hahn’s hilarious character Carla, is usually what works the best.
Where Bad Moms really succeeds is in its endearing message. Our moms, the women who gave life to us and would do anything for us, deserve to have enough appreciation to where they don’t have to be negligent just to feel like they matter. And by the end of the movie, we feel genuinely happy at where the three mom’s are in their relationships with their families. A nice touch during the end credits, which has the actresses being interviewed with their real life moms, adds just enough to make Bad Moms a feel good movie that is the perfect date to treat mom to.
FINAL GRADE: B-
The Wolf of Wallstreet reminded us that a true story about shady hustlers can be both really compelling and hilarious regardless of whether audiences grasp the logistics of the actual scheme. Now Todd Phillips, Director of Old School, The Hangover and its lousy sequels I’ll try to forgive him for, handles a similar script with a pair of actors keen for this type of setting. Jonah Hill proved his worth with a stellar supporting performance in Wallstreet and Miles Teller was exceptional in 2014’s Whiplash so War Dogs has all of the ingredients for a solid comedic drama.
Miles Teller narrates the film as David Packouz, a former massage therapist with a beautiful wife (Ana de Armas) who is expecting their first child. Eager to get out of a financial rut, Teller abandons an unsuccessful venture selling bed sheets to nursing homes to join his childhood friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill) in his business selling low end equipment to the U.S. military. Their hustling takes them from personally smuggling a truck full of ammunition through the hostile Afghan desert to personally doing business with a registered terrorist (Bradley Cooper) in hopes of winning a multi-million dollar deal in the midst of the War in Iraq. Eventually, Diveroli’s sleaziness and arrogance coupled with Packouz’s naivety lands their business in hot water with the U.S. government.
Like Wolf of Wallstreet, the movie is filled with dark humor that almost always hits its mark thanks to the charisma of the two lead actors. Teller and Hill form a perfect balance and help carry the movie through its more predictable arcs. Neither are as good as Leonardo Dicaprio was in Wallstreet, but the expectation isn’t for them to be. Where War Dogs falls short is in its relatively predictable drama. Packouz’s marriage suffers, their friendship crumbles, and of course it all ends with legal fallout. But even the film’s more zanier moments, like the aforementioned trek through hostile Afghan territory (which apparently didn’t actually happen) is undoubtedly entertaining and each major player falls into their role. So even if War Dogs feels like Diet-Wolf of Wallstreet it’s a film that feels like solid entertainment.
FINAL GRADE: B