Why the New Magnificent Seven Fails

Film Poster for 2016 Magnificent Seven

As Hollywood continues to travel on the remake train, with a rumored re-imagining of The Wild Bunch still bouncing around the ether, despite the demise of Tony Scott who was to helm the picture, the new Magnificent Seven fails on several levels. Not as a western, per se, but as a remake of an original classic that was itself a remake.

Akira Kurosawa was a fan of the American western, specifically John Ford’s films.  He made Seven Samurai and also went on to make Yojimbo; the film that Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone turned into A Fistful of Dollars (which started Clint Eastwood on his rise to stardom and eventual transmutation into a film icon.)

Hollywood liked the western premise of “Seven Samurai” so much that they decided to make their own “westernized” version of Kurosawa’s love letter to the American West. John Sturges directed a script adapted by William Roberts; presumably based upon Akira’s original screenplay. 

The original film, “Seven Samurai” feels very western-ish with its Samurai heroes, who are in reality Ronin (Samurai without masters who are roaming the land and accomplishing little for money.) that still have the “code of honor” that they live by, or at least try to live by.

“SS” is slow and meandering and quite epic. It is also very verbose, all Japanese films at that time, even “Yojimbo,” featured heroes and villains who talk a lot. There are prerequisite (and long) speeches about everything, even before an attack, and the participants will talk the issue to death before turning to sword play.

The Sturges film got rid of all the heroes long winded pontification and kept it to a minimum. Yul Brynner, who plays the main gunfighter (Samurai) recruits the other six men who help the beleaguered villagers, and does so without resorting to long speeches.

Later in the film, when the time comes for a “long” speech, Brynner and the other gunfighters explain why their life is not one that anyone should envy. Each of the “Seven” give their short spin on the lifestyle.

Each of the gunfighters in the Sturges remake are like the Ronin (Samurai) from the Akira Kurosawa film. All have a code and each one has accomplished little in the recent months. The men not only have a sort of honor that they follow but they also find that their worth has diminished somewhat.

As the Charles Bronson character; Bernardo O’Reilly says, “Right now $20 is a lot of money.” All the men, after Brenner’s character Chris states that no one has given him “everything” before, follow for little money and the chance to do the right thing for people who need their help.

While Mexico was not overly pleased with how the Mexican villagers were depicted in the film; men with no weapons and little knowledge of the world outside their farms and families, the tale was intimate, simple and epic.

Sturges understood that the epic nature of this film depended on the intimate nature of the village and the naivety of the people who needed help. This naivety even extends to the bandit leader who really steals from the unfortunate villagers in order to feed his men.

It is a case of survival for both the heroes and the villains. Even Chris and his magnificent seven gunfighters are doing the job for the “food and board” more than anything else.

The bare minimum of recompense and reward is what turned this film into an instant classic. That and the performances of all the players, Brynner, Steve McQueen, Bronson, Eli Wallach, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn all turned in brilliant performances, each a shaded nuance of their Samurai counterparts, and this, along with the script and direction made this slow moving and simple western a massive hit.

The remake, however, and Antoine Fuqua work on the premise that bigger is better. The screenwriters (Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto) hark back to the original screenplays and the overall feeling is a mishmash of Spaghetti Western ambiance with a lot of Hollywood Western cliches.

Chris is now Sam Chisolm Denzel Washington, a warrant officer for the court and he has a connection with the villain of this piece, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Somewhat irritatingly, in a bit of backstory, Sarsgaard’s character hired men who hung, somewhat unsuccessfully, Sam Chisolm. This act turns the whole thing into a Hang ‘Em High type scenario at the end which detracts from the whole message of both the original and the 1960 remake.

This new version moves the action from south of the border and turns the farmers into town folk being terrorized by the greedy Bartholomew (Sarsgaard) who wants the gold and all the land to himself. This move alone creates a problem in that after the Civil War, many of the townspeople were not helpless sheep, as depicted in the 2016 film.

As Louis L’Amour pointed out in many of his books about the old west; towns were filled with old campaigners who had fought in several wars, including taking on the indigenous population that the white man forced off their tribal lands. No one, in the real west, would have allowed Bartholomew’s hired guns to run roughshod over their town.

(In this film’s move to make corporate greed and gold the main motivation for the villain, they also inadvertently entered “Pale Rider” territory.  Even the film’s opening shot of Washington’s character has him riding through a heat shimmer, very similar to another Clint Eastwood western, “High Plains Drifter” – a western that also dealt with gold as its prevailing plot line.)

None of the original characters are transferred wholly from either film to the new “Seven.” There is the Robert Vaughn character Lee, being played by Ethan Hawke, but he is a sniper, not a gunfighter at all. James Coburn’s character, a variation on the master swordsman in Kurosawa’s classic, has been taken over by Korean actor Byung-hun Lee and there is no Horst Buchholz  character at all.

There are things that stand out with Fuqua’s vision of Magnificent Seven. He has included some Native American characters and his Mexican member of the team is no neophyte but is instead a hardened killer. He also allows the token female – Haley Bennett, who plays recently widowed Emma Cullen, to be one tough piece of work.

What is missing are the clean lines put forth by Sturges’ film. The intimacy has gone and been replaced with huge shoot outs that includes all the well-armed townspeople. By including dynamite, a gatling gun (Oh so reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch) and a 150 strong army of hired gunfighters, the epic intimacy has been thrown out the window.

In this version of the film, the villagers are not so much learning what they must do to survive against an outside evil, not that much different from them, but are fighting against corporate greed and an inflated ego. Sarsgaard’s character in this film is an old west version of Donald Trump, in essence, and this move exacerbates the change of victim.

Ultimately, the film lacks the oomph of Sturges’ version and feels more like a homage to Sergio Leone than Akira Kurosawa.  The Elmer Bernstein score, from the 1960 film is only used during the end credits and this also effects the film.

The actors in the film all do well but lack the stoic and taciturn quality of the western heroes brought to screen in the original “Seven” and while they all bring much to their roles, the screenplay lets them down.

The 2016 Magnificent Seven, despite a huge shootout which leaves the streets of the one-horse town littered with bodies from both sides, is, in the end, a little boring and more of an oddity than a brilliant re-imagining of two classics.

By having a connection between the new and not improved version of the Mexican bandit and the new Yul Brynner character  the film loses the nobility of the characters and the storyline of both Sturges’ film and Kurosawa’s.

Despite the high scores on IMDb, with Rotten Tomatoes being a bit less enthusiastic, the film, with so many influences (including a bit of Tarantino) is only a 3.5 star film. It is enjoyable but not overly so. Watch once and then move on…

MacGyver: Ruler – Thrown Under the Bus (Review)

Lucas Till as MacGyver

As opined in an earlier review, the specter of Patricia Thornton will not rest easy behind bars as she reaches out to endanger the entire team in MacGyver “Ruler.” In this episode, which takes place in “Amsterdam,” Mac and the entire team are in the field when they are thrown under the bus after a bomb they intercept explodes in the town “centrum.”

This is Boze’s first international field mission and it was supposed to be fairly simple and straightforward.  The group are put in jeopardy when the bomb they take from Olivia Prior explodes destroying property in the city. The CCTV footage in Amsterdam show all four operatives and the Dutch intelligence community and the cops are all after the team.

In the field, as the agents fend for themselves, we learn that Jack has an old girlfriend in Amsterdam and that he can speak Dutch and French. Boze can actually make passible prosthetics on the fly and that when the chips are down the “scientist” can be as brave as anyone on the team.

At the start of the episode Boze daydreams about saving the entire team while on assignment. He reluctantly reveals his aspirations to be a field operative to the robot that Mac built. Later, after almost dying in his first assignment, Wilt realizes that he is perfectly happy back in the lab.

This was an interesting episode. The sets all looked Dutch (Mike’s Film Talk would know, we lived there for some time) and the scenes were tightly filmed enough that there were no real “give-aways” as to where the location might actually be.

Apparently The Netherlands has increased their CCTV capability to match the paranoid extent of England’s CCTV coverage. In this storyline it seems that in Amsterdam the cameras are everywhere.  There is a smattering of Dutch spoken by the odd player and Christopher Heyerdahl does a brilliant job with his introductory line, as he enters the control room.

The only complaint about the language is when another actor talks of Schiphol Airport. They do not pronounce it properly. The Dutch basically growl the first part and no one, not even Heyerdahl say the word correctly.

The team manage to turn the tables on Harlan, who is the real bad guy here and escape. Boze tells the robot that he is pleased to be back with the geeks and alls well that ends well.

In terms of humor, this one delivered a number of chuckle worthy moments. Jack’s girlfriend and his previous CIA cover story, “Call me Bryce,” were amusing enough to make Dalton even more fun than usual.

Boze’s impromptu prosthetics, that began to melt off of Mac’s and Riley’s faces in front of the overly hot servers was clearly a nod to Inspector Clouseau  and his melting nose in the 1976 comedy “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.”

Both Mac’s oversized proboscis and Riley’s fake nose begin to fall apart as the two operatives sweat buckets trying to recover incrimination footage that Harlan’s agents covered up. It was an almost perfect moment of strained comedy as the two race to avoid detection.

(Ironically, Boze does save the day just as he did in his daydream by distracting the Dutch cops who are closing in on his two friends.)

While “Ruler” was entertaining it has to be mentioned that the robot, with its “Jarvis” type delivery a’la Iron Man, is annoying. Another one of those “points off for lack of originality” moments. The AI concept with an English butler character as the robotic sidekick has been done before.

MacGyver airs Fridays on CBS. Head on over and catch this one. The new boss, so different from the old one, has well and truly settled in and the team are bonding very well. This re-imaging is well worth a look.

Cast:

Guest starring Christopher Heyerdahl as Harlan Wolff, Svetlana Efremova as Olivia Prior and Deborah Mace as Jenaveev.

Dr Ken: Allison Finds a Lump – Stand Up to Cancer (Recap/Review)

DR. KEN - "Allison Finds a Lump" - During a self-exam, Allison finds a suspicious lump in her breast, causing Ken and the HMO gang to rally around her for support while she anxiously waits for the doctor's diagnosis. Meanwhile, Dave has questions for how he will portray the character he's playing in the school play, and Pat and Damona share an unexpected moment, on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24 (8:31-9:00 p.m. EST), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ron Tom) KRISTA MARIE YU, SUZY NAKAMURA, KEN JEONG, DAVE FOLEY, JONATHAN SLAVIN, TISHA CAMPBELL-MARTIN

This second season of Dr. Ken has managed to successfully mix tears and laughter on many of its episodes. None, however, more masterfully than “Allison Finds a Lump.” This one touches upon a personal note. Ken Jeong’s real-life wife fought and won against “the Big C” (as the late Duke Wayne referred to the disease) and at the end of the episode Ken and Tran  talk about Stand Up To Cancer.

The episode starts with Dave taking on the role of Peter Pan and complaining about the nonsensical nature of the tale while learning his lines. Later, after a shower, Allison discovers a lump in her breast. Ken takes time away from watching a tic-tac-toe playing chicken to reassure her.

He calms Allison down after trying to rip a hand towel in half. The scene ends with the two watching the creature play the game as Ken tells a story about the bird.

The next day, Allison puts off ringing her doctor for an appointment and Ken rings for her. As she talks to the receptionist, Molly overhears her conversation. Learning that Allison has found a lump is clearly upsetting.

As Allison waits to learn when her doctor can see her, the receptionist puts her on hold. The music playing is a variation on the old Benny Hill Yakety Sax theme, every time Allison is put on hold, she is treated to this upbeat music.

She learns that her doctor cannot see her for two weeks. Ken vows to help Allison find another doctor to see her. She tells the rest of the Welltopia staff and she gets a group hug from everyone, including a passerby named Carl.

Allison and Ken go to see the most dour surgeon in all of Welltopia, Dr. O’Sullivan.  Allison worries about everything that is going on and Ken reassures her that he will help out. After he then breaks a sculpture in the doctor’s office the surgeon reveals that Allison does have a lump.

He schedules a biopsy the next day during his lunch break. Allison jokingly asks if she can be in an induced coma while waiting for the results and O’Sullivan reacts poorly, the man really does have no sense of humor.

Molly speaks with Ken about her mother and expresses her fears and offers to support  both her parents however she can. She agrees to drive Dave to his play incase Allison is not up to going to the show.

Pat, who has been going on phone dating sites since breaking up with Megan, talks with Clark and Damona about realizing how short life is. The realization that Allison could have cancer has touched them all. He vows to do more with his life and Damona talks about taking tennis lessons.

Allison and Ken have a moment where she talks about how waiting for the news is driving her crazy. They decide to attend Dave’s play and they arrive to find Pat, Clark and Damona already in attendance.

Dave’s harness malfunctions and the audience are in stitches. The next day Allison learns that the lump was not cancerous. Pat surprises Damona with a box of tennis gear and he further surprises her with a kiss. She asks him why he had to complicate things and then kisses him back.

At the Park home, Allison reveals to Molly that she got the all clear and the family indulge in a group hug after Dave announces that he is a star.

At the end of the episode Ken and his wife Tran talk about their story and Stand Up To Cancer.

This was another of those special moments on Dr. Ken where a personal note was introduced into the show. The series is already based, somewhat, on Ken Jeong’s real life and this episode broaches the fear of breast cancer and the effect it has on those around us.

Ken also, via the auspices of personal experience,  manages to dispense some brilliant advice for those who might share Allison’s experience. Dr. Ken reminds his TV wife to be proactive in getting help. The message is clear, being diagnosed with a lump is the first step, not the final one.

It is done effectively. In ways that are touching and humorous, the story line shows how life goes on all around the cancer victim, or potential victim. Dave, who never learns about the lump, goes on to adapt Peter Pan. Molly steps up to help out and Ken proves that there are no limits on his love for Allison.

There are obviously no limits on the feelings that Pat and Damona have for one another either. While this passion has never cooled, it could be a bit awkward for Damona and Eric, since they are still, presumably, a couple. The re-ermegence of this love affair has been a long time coming.

“Allison Finds a Lump” was a splendid mix of comedy with tears. Suzy Nakamura and Ken Jeong were spot on with their reactions to one another with what could have been devastating news. Krista Marie Yu provided a powerhouse performance that was simple but oh so effective. Albert Tsai proved, that in the scheme of things, he really does not need a straight man, the kid has got comedy chops for days.

On top of the powerful and poignant message that Dr. Ken passed on this week, the culmination of the Pat and Damona relationship (with those two kissing with all that repressed passion) was a splendid moment. This couple needs to be together and this, along with Dave’s happy self inclusion in that familial group hug, made the comedic portion of the episode nigh on perfect.

Dr. Ken airs Fridays on ABC. Tune in and bliss out and embrace the love that this show shares.

(On a sidenote: Does Ken call Allison Molly as they leave O’Sullivan’s office? Answers on a postcard please or down in the comment section below. Please and thank you.)

Cast:

Guest starring Patrick O’Sullivan  as Dr. O’Sullivan

Superstore: Wellness Fair – Cat Out of the Bag (Recap/Review)

SUPERSTORE -- "Wellness Fair" 216 -- Pictured: (l-r) Nichole Bloom as Cheyenne, Ben Feldman as Jonah, Mark McKinney as Glenn, America Ferrera as Amy -- (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)

Superstore “Wellness Fair” lets the cat out of the bag on more than one secret being kept by Cloud 9 employees. At long last the truth of whom Jeff is really seeing comes out, as does Jeff, and Glenn goes cold turkey when he learns just how unhealthy fruit juice really is.

This episode saw Amy playing hooky from work to take her daughter to see the The LEGO Batman Movie. She calls in sick and Dina decides immediately that Amy is faking her illness.  The assistant manager makes it her mission to catch Amy out.

Throughout the entire episode she asks her coworkers whether Amy told them where she was the day before or what type of illness she had.  Meanwhile, the store is exploding with the news that Amy saw Jeff and Mateo outside the movie theatre kissing.

She believes that Jeff is cheating on Sandra and as Amy learns the truth, the rest of the store believe that Jeff got Sandra pregnant and then dumped her for Mateo. Later, they learn that she made the whole thing up for attention. (Although initially it was a misunderstanding.)

Cloud 9 are having a wellness fair where customers can have certain things like blood pressure and their vision tested. However, as Garrett tells  the store, they are not offering breast exams. “If we were it would not be done by a teenage  boy,” Garrett says.

Glenn decides that Jonah is being a real “know-it-all” and gets angry when it appears that the Cloud 9 employee is smarter than he is.  Between stressing out at Jonah’s knowledge base and trying to convince Sandra to not abort her, made-up, baby, Glenn’s blood sugar crashes and he gets dizzy.

After the entire store, including customers, watch Glenn and Jonah argue about abortion and feminism, Jeff has to turn up from corporate and talk to the staff about what not to discuss in front of paying customers.

Glenn, who is still suffering from that low blood sugar, confronts Jeff about getting Sandra pregnant and then dumping her. Jeff then reveals that he is gay, Mateo tells everyone that they have been dating for months and Sandra explains that she made the whole thing up.

Garrett and Dina also lift the veil on their sexual relationship. Amy is wildly amused at this turn of events and starts picking on Garrett. He responds by telling Dina that Amy faked being sick to see The LEGO Batman Movie.

Dina confronts Amy, demanding to know what that is…

This episode of Superstore was a brilliant breakdown of just how quickly gossip can spread through the workplace. In seconds the entire store and its staff learned of Sandra’s “pregnancy” and then that she had made the relationship up.

It also pointed out, yet again, just how inept Glenn feels when he is around Jonah.  The cutest part of the entire episode was when the two boyfriends “came out” and Mateo tells the first customer they encounter that they are a couple.

Glenn, as usual, could be the poster child for how not to behave when he accuses Jeff of being too bland to be gay. It was the highlight of the episode. Superstore airs Thursdays on NBC.

Cast:

Timeless: The Red Scare – Broken (Review)

 Timeless - Season 1

Timeless “The Red Scare” manages to deliver a triple whammy where Lucy diagnoses Flynn as being broken and it looks like he is not the only one is issues. By the end of the episode, Jiya has some sort of time travel glitch and Preston discovers that her mum was a Rittenhouse agent all along.

Flynn is also arrested by Agent Christopher. “But he is a terrorist,” she tells Lucy as the furious man so desperate to save his wife and child is led away by soldiers. Lucy is also upset as Flynn was on his way to the last ever mission in the mothership.

For the more political viewers, this episode, which featured the infamous “better dead than red” Senator Joe McCarthy, seemed to draw a perfectly clear parallel to the new POTUS. The line about the press seemed spot on, another power mad individual claiming that the press lie…

There was also the reminder that McCarthy was, underneath it all, a bully.

The main plot line had Lucy meeting her “in the closet” grandfather and recruiting him to the cause of defeating Rittenhouse. She asks him to become a double agent. His efforts, along with those of Connor Mason who reveals to Christopher that he has been playing the long game, allow the Rittenhouse organization to be gutted.

However…

As we learn in the closing moments of the episode, Rittenhouse may have been down but they are not out. They have gained control of the mothership, now being piloted by Emma who was hiding out in the old west earlier, and are on their way to change history.

It also becomes clear just what Rittenhouse and its members suffer from, as compared to Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus and Flynn, they have no empathy, passion or even the most basic of emotions. When Lucy tells her mother that she will be going back after Amy, her missing sister, the reaction she gets is telling.

“Mom” reveals that she is part of the Rittenhouse machine and that no one cares about a missing girl that only Lucy knows about. The shock on Preston’s face is clear, not just at the news that her mother is part of the problem but that she is so cold and unmoved about Amy’s plight.

While Flynn’s arrest is upsetting, as is Lucy’s learning that her mother was in on the whole thing all along, the interesting thing about this episode has to do with Jiya’s “vision.”

Was Jiya being the fourth in the machine result in her being able to time travel without a device? Or since the issues have to do with her eyes, can she see the past? (Her glance at the Golden Gate Bridge showed the thing under construction. While this could mean a sort of time travel glitch, one that Rufus was there for, it could also be a premonition of sorts. A glimpse into where the team will be heading next, if the network continues with the show…)

One possible plot hole was the scene where Emma heads into the mothership to fly that “final” Rittenhouse mission. Whitmore had hidden back in the old west because she learned what the organization was up to. At least this was what she told Flynn when he encountered her in episode 12.

However, Timeless has proven time and again that its history and the storyline of the series are fluid. The time line began fluctuating from that very first episode where the team’s actions doomed Lucy’s sister Amy to being blinked right out of existence.

The first story, that dealt with the Hindenburg, also revealed that some things cannot be changed and some people die regardless what our heroes do in their missions. (Later Wyatt finds out that his wife died despite his actions, a lesson that Flynn refuses to acknowledge as he tries again and again to save his wife and child.)

Timeless has been a good ride so far and hopefully NBC will bring the series back for a second outing. The show finished out its season with an average of 4.622 million viewers per episode and 1.10 of its target demographic.

What do you think should Timeless get another season?

Cast: