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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Well, I like it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A remake of the classic western (which itself was a remake of the even more classic Seven Samurai), seven gunslingers are called to protect a town from a vicious crime boss who is trying to bully them out of their homes.

What we thought

Remaking classic films always strikes me as a rather stupid idea because, no matter how good the remake, it always struggles to escape the shadow of its predecessor. This, incidentally, is why it always makes much more sense to remake mediocre or highly flawed movies, as that way you can rely on an existing property but you might actually have a chance of transcending your source. See horror classics like the Fly or the Thing to view first hand just how well this works when done properly.

When it comes to remaking the Magnificent Seven, though, things are rather more complicated. Not only was the original itself a remake (though this is actually one of the rare cases when it can actually be called a “reimagining”) but it was one that, though still a quality piece of work, is very much a product of its time and does, dare I say it, look quite dated to modern eyes.

This perhaps might explain why the new Magnificent Seven, though seriously flawed in one or two aspects, is actually a very successful remake and a really solid film in its own right.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Light Between Oceans

You might need patience with this one but I, for one, think it's worth it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A lighthouse keeper and his young wife, living alone on the outskirts of a remote Australian town and struggling to have a child of their own, come across a rowing boat marooned on the deserted beach containing a dead man and a crying baby girl. Deciding to keep the child for themselves, their relationship and their values are put to the test when, two years later, he has a chance encounter with a woman who is clearly their child's real mother.

What we thought

Based on the highly acclaimed 2012 novel by M. L. Stedman, which I admittedly have never read, The Light Between Oceans is the rare adaptation of what is ultimately a relatively lengthy novel that feels neither overstuffed nor rushed (nor horribly overdrawn like the ten-hour slog of the Hobbit, of course). Even more impressively, it manages to stay true to its source's novelistic structure, even as it remains defiantly and purposefully cinematic.

What this means, basically, is that the film is very slow and fairly long but is uses exactly this deliberateness of pace and indulgent running time to really draw you into its complex characters and the very singular world they inhabit. This isn't a film of major plot revelations but is one with a fully developed moral dilemma at its core; revolving around intricately drawn characters and a real sense of the slowly maddening isolation that slowly starts to corrode not just the tether that ties this hopelessly-in-love couple to the norms, realities and morals of the wider world but even the their own carefully constructed, if highly insulated, family.

As the latest film from writer/ director Derek Cianfrance, who is known for similarly tough, dramatic fare like Blue Valentine and the Place Beyond the Pines, it's no surprise that the Light Between Oceans is aimed very much at more mature – or, at least, more patient – audiences who are willing to embrace its quiet beauty, its complexity and its character-driven storytelling. It is, however, both far more accessible than either of his two previous films and, for my money anyway, quite a bit more dramatically fulfilling and easily enjoyable.

War Dogs

Not quite the Wolf of the Lord of War... but not too far off either.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The (mostly) true story of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, two childhood friends who reconnect in their early twenties and soon find themselves knee deep in the international arms trade.

What we thought

By far the most noteworthy thing about War Dogs is just how utterly un-noteworthy it is. The story on which it is based may be pretty amazing for something in real life but, as a film, there is nothing here that we haven't seen many times before, often done quite a bit better.

That's not to say that War Dogs is a bad movie, though. It's competently put together, typically well acted by its leads (both Jonah Hill and Miles Teller have really become very fine actors over the years) and basically perfectly enjoyable in an utterly innocuous but rollickingly entertaining kind of way.

The problem, though, is that it couldn't help but bring to mind two wildly superior films from recent years, albeit for different reasons.