Monthly Archives: September 2016

“The Magnificent Seven” Movie Review

Can we all just agree that Denzel Washington is the man? Seriously, if there’s one thing this movie educated me about, it’s that statement. This Western movie debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival before receiving a worldwide release of September 23rd, 2016, when it grossed over $40 million in its opening weekend. Set in 1877, a corrupt industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue is terrorizing the small town of Rose Creek for their plentiful mines. Two residents, Emma Cullen and Teddy Q, decide their only choice is to recruit as many bounty hunters possible to protect them. Seven men agree to do so- black bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, gambler Josh Faraday, Comanche warrior Red Harvest, Mexican outlaw Vasquez, sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, hunter Jack Horne, and assassin Billy Rocks. Despite taking the title from the 1960 film of the same, I wouldn’t call this a remake. While they have similar plots and settings, they’re both ultimately products of their time. This one feels more like a celebration of the Western film, a genre with installments that are few and far in-between in modern times. It’s apparent because the idea of cowboys and bounty hunters defending a small town of innocent villagers from a band of bad men has been a plot device used in countless Western stories. But it works here. As I said in my intro, Denzel Washington is a complete badass in this movie. I believe this is his third outing with director Antoine Fuqua, whom he had previously collaborated on Training Day and The Equalizer. If you tell this man your secrets, he won’t tell anyone else. If you’re his friend and someone messes with you, he will take care of that problem. I guess I love damaged characters who are very efficient at what they do.And yeah, the other six members of the Seven did a great job. Chris Pratt is hilarious as Faraday, proving once again his justification for taking over Hollywood in the last few years. I was really glad to see Ethan Hawke reunite on-screen with Denzel for the first time since Training Day. He plays a very well-spoken and friendly sharpshooter who is capable of shooting your head off, even if he may be hesitant to pull it off. Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Lee Byung-hun are all great in their respective roles, but I wish that some of them had gotten more screen-time. At a point, I started wondering which of these men is cannon fodder. But from the way they interact in scenes together, I’m convinced that these seven men probably hang out with each other. Haley Bennet was also a performance worth noting as Emma Cullen. At first glance, she just comes across as a typical Western damsel-in-distress, looking for a handsome man to ride on a horse with her into the sunset. As it turns out, she’s pretty capable of looking after herself, showing proficiency with firearms and killing nasty outlaws. The camera work is fantastic. With long, drawn out wide shots of men riding on horseback contrasted by quick edits of intense gun battles, John Refoua and Mauro Fiore deliver a beautiful-looking adventure. The two of them do a great job of making the audience feel as though they really are in the town of Rose Creek. Let’s touch on the musical score. Having tragically died in June of last year, this was James Horner’s final posthumous soundtrack. Though it was finished by his friend Simon Franglen, it still had all the violins, twangy guitars, and intense drumbeats that we’ve come to love and expect from the genre. I wouldn’t say that The Magnificent Seven offers much that is new or improves on the original film. But it was still a lot of fun to watch, especially considering the rarity of its genre in recent cinema. It knows what it is for the most part, and that’s probably the best thing any movie can do.

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“Southside With You” Movie Review

This movie teaches us all a very important lesson, folks: getting your girlfriend a cup or cone of their favorite ice cream will score you at least one kiss. At least that’s what the Obamas seem to be teaching me about first dates. Released on August 26th, 2016, this romantic comedy-drama earned $6 million over a $1.5 million budget. Set in the summer of 1989, the film follows Barack Obama and Michele Robinson on their first date in Southside Chicago. Before they were living in the White House with two daughters, they were just two work associates at a law firm. Supposedly, the real-life 44th President and First Lady had little to no involvement with the production. Writer-director, Richard Tanne, in his feature film debut, claims that the majority of the movie was based on extensive research of publicly released information. A lot work for this movie. Getting it right off the bat, the two lead stars are really good in their roles. Tika Sumpter, who also served as co-producer on the production, captured the essence of Michelle Obama with flying colors. Her determination and pragmatism reflect her high level of intelligence. She does acknowledge, however, that her being a woman draws the ire of a work line dominated mostly by men. Added by the color of her skin, and her opportunities are limited even further. Opposite her, Parker Sawyer portrays Barack Obama, kind of. By that I mean Barack Obama is in this movie, and that is simply that. Not even lying. Sawyer’s big acting break sees him absolutely perfect in the role of an ordinary man who would later become the well-known if controversial United States President. His voice patterns and mannerisms make him look and feel exactly like the real-life subject, who smokes like a chimney and speak in a modest, intelligent tone. The chemistry between Sawyer and Sumpter bounces off of the walls. The dialogue they share is realistic and sometimes funny, making the relationship of their first date feel all the more genuine. Which is interesting, because this is a case of a real-life story where you already know how it’s going to end. But the way everything is executed makes you forget about that; a good movie can do that. And Southside With You is an excellent movie. Regardless of your political opinions of the Obamas, their first love story is still compelling and relatable for anyone who watches this film. It would actually make a great date night movie.

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“Kubo and the Two Strings” Movie Review

Alright, here are the facts: I have been very busy as the school year started up again. And in the last few weeks, I have seen three movies in theaters. So now, I owe you three reviews, starting with this surprising one. This 3-D stop-motion fantasy adventure debuted on August 19th, 2016, grossing just under $42 million at the international box office. A directorial debut from Travis Knight, this is the fourth feature-length stop-motion picture from Laika Entertainment. What’s it about? That’s actually kind of tough. In a spoiler-free, long-story-short version, it centers on a kid named Kubo who lost his left eye at a very young age. After his tragic past catches up to him, he must now go on a quest to find a set of impenetrable armor to protect and arm himself against those who would wish to manipulate him for evil purposes. Along the way, he is accompanied by two anthropomorphic animal companions: Monkey and Beetle. Now we have ourselves arguably the closest thing we will ever get to a good Legend of Zelda movie. I was admittedly hesitant about this film. The marketing material didn’t particularly grab me, and I’m always weary of stop-motion animation. The best one to date was Fantastic Mr. Fox. A Wes Anderson comedy in the form of talking animals? That was rad. Luckily, Kubo and the Two Strings is pretty cool. Let’s get started with the voice cast. Game of Thrones alumni Art Parkinson owns the title role. He’s relatable, fun-loving, and almost always puts others before himself. It’s interesting to see him go from this timid, quiet storyteller in his village to a heroic adventurer. Furthermore, you get to witness more and more of his powers and abilities over the course of the plot. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. What kind of blog do you think this is? Charlize Theron shines as Monkey, who is a complete badass on this quest. At least three separate times during their adventure, I witnessed her going into action to defend the members of her party. It took me a little while to figure it out, but the character Beetle was voiced by Mathew McConaughey. I couldn’t detect a trace of his Southern twang or hear him say, “Alright, Alright, Alright.” Doesn’t matter though, because he killed it as well, delivering his lines with natural fluidity and comedic timing. I also love how the screenwriters, Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, were able to inject so much mythology into a 102-minute long feature film. Obviously influenced by East Asian culture and legends, it’s very interesting to watch all of the lore and backstory of the world unfold on-screen. The bummer is that I don’t think that it shows enough. I really want to see more of the mythology in a possible franchise. Let’s take a brief moment to talk about the villains that Kubo and Company have to face. I says villains because there are really two main antagonists presented. They had some menace and mystique surrounding them, but over all I didn’t find them very compelling. However, the voice performances, by Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes, respectively, were very captivating to listen to. The musical score by Dario Marianelli was an even more captivating joy to the ears. Primarily consisting of Chinese Sitars, violins, and other major string instruments, the score perfectly reflects emotional sadness in one instant and then a grand adventure in the next one. During the credits, there’s even a cover of the Beatles’ famous song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Lastly, the animation is gorgeous. The blending of stop-motion and computer-generated effects is both seamless and beautiful. The use of stop-motion allows for a certain physicality of the characters, while the CG gives the world and magic a lot of room to flourish. Kubo and The Two Strings surprised me this fall. Great animations, fun action, and a decidedly melancholy story elevate this Laika production to one of the best animated pictures of the year. Why I didn’t see this movie and review it much earlier, I will never ever know.

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“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” Movie Review

Hello, everybody. You may not have heard, but at the time of writing, the world lost Gene Wilder at age 83. So I wanted to make a review that celebrates his life and focused on a movie that encompassed what I always saw in him. Many of you may be thinking of Young Frankenstein, but instead, I choose the role we all knew him for. Mel Stuart’s musical fantasy film released on June 30th, 1971, somehow only managing to rake in $4 million against its $3 million budget. Thankfully, the world banded together and made it hugely successful through re-releases and home video. It is the story of Charlie Bucket, a poor kid gets caught up in a competition to retrieve a Golden Ticket. This Golden Ticket will allow any winner and their family members to explore the reclusive candy magnate, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for one day. He and four other kids win, and get to witness the Factory firsthand for the first time in many, many years. Throughout the 99-minute feature, Charlie and these children get to see the various wonders of the Chocolate Factory. Whoever can make it all the way through while following each and every one of his rules will be awarded a lifetime supply of chocolate. And up until then, the film is entertaining enough, what with getting to see each of the characters and hear some musical numbers. However, when you actually get to meet Willy Wonka, that’s when the movie explodes. Gene Wilder as Wonka in this movie is among the greatest supporting characters in cinematic history; one of, definitely. His performance was the first time it dawned on me that a supporting character can steal the entire show. Not only is he a wonderfully fun person to watch on screen, but also a mysterious man whose secrets are tough to pinpoint. Fun fact, Gene Wilder actually added his intro for the character, when Willy Wonka walked out of the factory on a cane, performed a somersault, and then proceeded to act like a normal human being in the public. Not only did this establish the difficulty of when he’s telling the truth and when he’s lying, this moment was also the only condition for which Gene Wilder would agree to take the role. In the end, it became one of the strongest and most memorable character entrances for years to come. Of course, I have to address the other four children who embarked on this journey with Charlie and Willy. Veruca Salt is a spoiled little Britsh girl demanding anything she wants at the moment, Augustus Gloop is a gluttonous German boy willing to eat anything, Violet Beauregarde chews gum non-stop during the story and Mike Teaveee is obsessed with television no matter where he is. They’re all interesting in their own regard, especially during scenes in which it shows how they got their Golden Ticket and what they do inside the Factory. Though some of the time, they feel more like caricatures than actual characters, as a couple of them aren’t given fully developed arcs. But that’s not why you and I are here. We’re here also for the soundtrack. Almost all of the songs are memorable and catchy. The best one, hands down, is “Pure Imagination,” sung by none other than Gene Wilder himself. I’d argue that the purpose of this song is to ask viewers to embrace their own imaginations, as there is no place that compares to it. My favorites were also the ones sung by the Oompa-Loompas,  the dwarfish workforce under Willy Wonka’s employment. Often, they would sing about their poor labor conduct or the consequences of certain children’s actions. The most surprising thing about Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory is the reaction from Roald Dahl, author of the children’s book for which the movie is based on. He actually publicly disowned it upon release. I’ll have to politely disagree with his opinion. It’s just one of those classic movies that you’ll never get sick of, no matter how many times you watch it. A great soundtrack and fun story are all overshadowed by a title character that absolutely stole the movie. Why did it warrant a 2005 remake by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp in the iconic role? Don’t know.

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