The Magnificent Seven (2016)



Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Roger Birnbaum/Todd Black

Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto/Richard Wenk

Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hasimoto/Hideo Oguni

And “The Magnificent Seven” directed by John Sturges

Written by William Roberts

There’s a scene in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN where they’re all sitting around just talking. It’s one of several scenes where we get to know these men and they get to know each other before the apocalyptic final battle in which they know full well that some, maybe none of them will survive. One of The Seven says that to die in the company of such men as these in the service of others is the highest honor he can imagine in life. And that pretty much sums up why the the concept of a small band of men of superlative fighting skills protecting those who can’t protect themselves worked in “Seven Samurai” and continues to work. “Seven Samurai” has been remade numerous times unofficially but the official sequel, the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is that rare sequel that has become just as legendary as the original. And I think it’s because of that ideal of dying honorably in the service of others, doing what is right just because you know in your gut and in your soul that it is right. It was one of the ideals that used to define manhood in our society and I think that’s why the 1960 version is still such a beloved movie, along with “Seven Samurai.” I don’t know if the 2016 version will still be watched 56 years from now but I like to think that all three of them still will be.

Just like in the 1960 version we have a gunfighter in black assembling a team of gunslingers to defend a town from a band of marauders. But this time, the gunfighter just doesn’t wear all black. He is black. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is persuaded by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to come to the mining town of Rose Creek to wrest the town from the iron-fisted control of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sargaard.) He has made virtual slaves out of the townspeople and goes around slaughtering anybody who dares speak up against him, including Emma’s husband.


Chisolm rounds up a band of decidedly deadly yet eccentric gunslingers. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is a quickdraw expert and gambler. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) gained a reputation during The Civil War as the most dangerous sharpshooter in the country. His partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is expert in close quarter combat with knives. Mountain man/tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an earthquake on two legs, possessed of terrifying physical strength. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who seems to be incapable of missing anything he shoots at. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who seemingly throws in with Chisolm on a whim but there is a deeper, more spiritual reason for him to join his cause.


Now, the two things that distinguish this incarnation of The Seven from all earlier ones (I’m counting the casts of “Return of The Seven” “Guns of The Magnificent Seven” and “The Magnificent Seven Ride!” in this) is first of all, the racial diversity.  We’ve got a black man, a Cajun, a native American and a Mexican on the team which makes a lot more sense historically. And because each member of The Seven has a distinct style of fighting, it’s visually more thrilling during the fight scenes since it’s not just a bunch of guys all banging away with their guns with the bad guys. It also gives them all specific tasks to do during the movie, according to their gifts.

A large part of the fun of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is the enthusiasm of the cast. It’s hard not to have fun watching the movie when the cast obviously had fun acting in it. I like how the story takes it’s time to introduce The Seven and lay out their motivations for taking on the task of liberating Rose Creek from the clutches of Bogue. Director Antoine Fuqua knows his Westerns, that’s for sure. There are plenty of shots and scenes in this that are direct swipes from classic Westerns directed by John Ford, Sergio Leone and Walter Hill.

For this to be Denzel Washington’s very first Western he sure goes through it as if he’s been doing horse operas most of his career. There’s echoes of the world weariness and moral center of Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams and they both wear all black but that’s where the similarities end. Chris Pratt is fun as the freewheeling Faraday who does card tricks to confound his enemies but let’s be honest; when is Chris Pratt not fun to watch in a movie? He’s like a big kid who’s being allowed to just have fun and he does so with energy and aplomb. You just can’t help smiling when he’s onscreen. Ethan Hawke’s wonderfully named Goodnight Robicheaux is a sort of mash-up of the Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter characters from the 1960 movie while Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is introduced to us in a nifty callback to James Coburn’s introductory scene in the original. The only real grumble I had with this movie as I was going out the door was that the classic theme song was used so little. I understand that this movie was the last one scored by James Horner so I fully comprehend that the studio wanted as much of his music to be used as possible as Mr. Horner was a true innovator and his movie scores are magic. But c’mon…


I’ve read reviews that criticized Antoine Fuqua for not bringing anything new to the Western genre with this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. But he really didn’t have to. We all know the story. The 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is one of those movies that even people who don’t like Westerns have seen and if they haven’t they know the story just as well as they know Superman’s origin or what the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is in “Citizen Kane.” You don’t go to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for plot twists or unexpected surprises. You go to see how well the story is retold. And it’s retold exceptionally well here. I’m also glad I got a chance to see it in IMAX and I heartily recommend that you do so as well. You guys know how much I love Westerns so I freely admit I’m biased. I simply love being able to go see a Western on the big screen and I love this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.


133 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Escape Plan



Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Produced by Robbie Brenner and Mark Canton

Screenplay by Jason Keller and Miles Chapman

Story by Miles Chapman

My guess is that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had way more fun acting together than they thought they would in the two “Expendables” movies. In the first “Expendables” Stallone and Schwarzenegger shared the screen (along with Bruce Willis) for maybe two or three minutes. “The Expendables 2” gave Stallone and Schwarzenegger more screen time together but ESCAPE PLAN has them truly co-starring for the first time in an action movie together. And let’s be honest, seeing two of the greatest and most successful action stars of the 80’s in a movie together is the drawing power of this movie. What surprised me is that there also was a damn good story to go along with the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with Ah-nuld doing some really good acting.


Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is partnered with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a highly unusual security firm. Ray is an absolute genius at breaking out of maximum security prisons. To date he’s broken out of 14. The goal is to show where the weaknesses in the prison security are so that they can be corrected. Ray is offered an obscene amount of money by the CIA to test a top secret corporately funded prison. The Tomb is an experiment in escape proof prisons. The location is secret and unlike most prisons, since it’s run by a for-profit corporation, if you have enough money to pay them to keep somebody you don’t like locked up for as long as you like, it’s all good.

Turns out that Ray has been set up. Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) informs him that The Tomb was built using Ray’s own textbook he wrote on how to build escape proof prisons. A book Hobbs keeps on his desk. The cell walls are transparent, the robotic looking guards have no problem beating prisoners into submission and Hobbs himself is totally merciless when it comes to maintaining order in his prison. Ray’s support team (Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) have no idea where he is or how to find him and Lester is no help at all

However, Ray still believes he can break out, using his method of Layout/Routine/Help. But the help this time comes in the hulking form of a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who joins up with Ray. He’ll use his resources in The Tomb to help Ray and in return, when Ray breaks out, he’ll take Rottmayer with him.

Having spent an obscene amount of time during the 1980’s going to see their movies, I was delighted to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger back in action yet again. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re older…but so am I. The screenplay affords them the opportunity to use their brains and wits more than they did in their past movies. If this had been made during the 80’s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger would simply have beat the hell out of everybody and walked out of the prison.

The surprising thing here is that Schwarzenegger walks away with the acting honors as he’s the comedy relief in this movie. I estimate he’s got 65% of the funny lines in the movie and it’s truly amusing to watch him and Stallone as a musclebound Crosby/Hope pairing. He also has a great scene where he has to provide a distraction for his partner and goes into a religious rant spoken entirely in German. And he proves that he’s still got it in the action scenes. There’s a part where he finally gets his hand on a heavy machine gun and the audience in the theater just about went nuts because we all knew what was coming next.

Almost as good is Faran Tahir as Javed, the leader of the prison’s Muslim population who joins up with Ray and Rottmayer. The way the relationship between him and Rottmayer is really interesting to watch and it’s always a bonus to see a Muslim character in this type of movie depicted as a man of respect, devout faith and intelligence.

Stallone plays a more cerebral character than we’re used to him seeing and I liked how his smarts was displayed. When Ray is explaining how he’s going to execute his plans and breaks it down step by step, it’s jaw-droppingly good the way director Mikael Hafstrom uses CGI diagrams and floor plans to help explain.

Jim Caviezel is nothing less than amazing and if you like him playing a good guy on TV’s “Person of Interest” then you’re going to enjoy even more seeing him play a bad guy. He’s the best kind of bad guy: the one who doesn’t have to raise his voice because he has no doubt he’s in control. Vinnie Jones as his chief enforcer/guard does his usual barking-mad-foaming-at-the-mouth badass. Nothing special here but Vinnie Jones has got this type of role locked down so well it should have his copyright on it.

escape-plan10 escape-plan-image01

Wish I could say more about Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson but the truth of the matter is that they really don’t have much to do other than yell at Lester about why isn’t he doing anything to find Ray. Sam Neill picks up a neat paycheck for playing The Tomb’s doctor. I hate to see an actor of Sam Neill’s talent wasted and he’s here in this movie for one reason and one reason only: to send an email.

So should you see ESCAPE PLAN? If you’re a fan of 80’s action movies and want to watch a movie that’s a throwback to that decade, Yes. If you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yes. If you want to watch a decent action thriller that’s a little bit smarter and better acted than it needed to be, Yes.


115 minutes

Rated R: For violence and language. The “F” bomb must have been dropped about fifty times in this movie so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Full Metal Jacket


Warner Bros.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Gustav Hasford and Michael Herr

Based on the novel “The Short Timers”

Occasionally the subject of Vietnam war movies will come up when I’m having one of my well known heated discussions about movies with friends and family. Everybody will start slinging around their candidate for best Vietnam war movies and while everybody knows and loves “Platoon” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter”, you don’t hear many people today mention movies like “Hamburger Hill” (which has some excellent work by Dylan McDermott and Courtney B. Vance) or “Who’ll Stop The Rain” or even the movie that was billed as “the best war movie ever made” when it first opened in 1987, Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET

Now saying that FULL METAL JACKET is “the best war movie ever made” is really stretching a point as far as I’m concerned. It’s not even the best Vietnam War movie ever made. That honor most certainly has to go to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” And if you really want to be blown away, watch the Redux version. Yeah, it’s a whole hour longer and some may say that the French plantation sequence isn’t necessary but screw ’em, I enjoyed it anyway. And as far as pure story goes, “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill” have FULL METAL JACKET beat. But you really should see it because Stanley Kubrick made it and it is a remarkable vision of The Vietnam War. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a Vietnam War movie marathon, rent all the movies I’ve mentioned so far and watch them in this order:

The Deer Hunter
Full Metal Jacket
Hamburger Hill
Apocalypse Now Redux
Who’ll Stop The Rain

Trust me on this, it makes sense to watch them in this order because by watching the films that way you get a sense of how the madness of the war exponentially increased and how it infected the American consciousness thereby causing the collapse of the diehard values of the 50’s and 60’s held onto by The United States. It was painfully obvious that everything was changing day by day and nobody was really all that certain of what was going to happen tomorrow. But that’s enough of my half-assed social commentary. Onto the movie review….

FULL METAL JACKET begins with one of the most brilliant and profanely hilarious sequences in movie history as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) addresses his raw recruits on Parris Island, which is where The Marine Corps trains their troops. R. Lee Ermey actually was a Marine Drill Instructor for thirty years and it was a stroke of genius on Kubrick’s part to have Ermey basically play himself since Ermey brings an outstanding level of realism to the role. And at the same time, he’s as funny as Richard Pryor on his best day. He seems to have a bottomless well of profane insults and obscene descriptions for his men that are at the same time outstandingly creative and yet mind-numbingly hilarious in their dehumanizing effect and he never repeats himself once as far as I could tell. One of the recruits actually has to pay a pretty stern price for laughing while Hartman is berating another recruit and I couldn’t blame the guy one bit ‘cause if I’d been standing there, I’d have been laughing my ass off. Ermey is simply wonderful in the role and he has a scene where he finds some contraband food in the footlocker of one of his recruits and the cat just simply loses his mind. The scene has even more power if you do your research and find out that R. Lee Ermey’s dialog is this movie was actual things he used to say to his real-life recruits. Suddenly it doesn’t become so funny.

Hartman in particular latches onto one overweight recruit he names Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) since the poor slob can’t even tie his shoes right and heaps a whole bunch of abuse on the hapless bastard.  Hartman ruthlessly drives the recruit to the breaking point in his efforts to turn him into a soldier worthy to serve in Hartman’s beloved Marine Corps with horrifying and tragic results.  The conflict between Hartman and Gomer Pyle is witnessed by one Private Joker (Matthew Modine) who is there to become a journalist.

Joker confuses his superior officers because while he claims he is a killer and fully intends to be “the first kid on his block to get a confirmed kill” also blatantly wears a peace symbol on his helmet. Joker is the character we follow through the movie as he goes through basic training and eventually sees combat along with his buddy Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) who is a photographer but also is insanely hot to see his share of the action. Rafterman’s constant mantra to Joker is: “I wanna get in the shit.” The two men hook up with a platoon that is involved in The Tet Offensive and this leads to the last third of the movie where the platoon engages in a bloody confrontation with a sniper in the flaming ruins of Hue City. And by then, Rafterman, Joker and the platoon are most certainly all in a world of shit.

FULL METAL JACKET isn’t a movie with a straightforward plot or story and it feels very loose to me as a result. There’s no sense that we have a story that we’re following from beginning to end and in fact, some scenes don’t really end. They just fade out and go to the next one and maybe that’s what Kubrick was trying for in order to make us feel that The Vietnam War didn’t have a beginning or end. It just went from one outrageous horror to the next. And Kubrick isn’t known for being a director who concentrated on his actors anyway. Despite this, there are some great performances in the movie, especially from Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio who plays Gomer Pyle. In fact, the first hour of the movie is so dominated by their performances that after we leave the Parris Island training sequence, the movie loses some of its energy since there’s no actor in the movie that comes close to the level D’Onofrio and Ermey achieve in the beginning. Although Adam Baldwin as a half-crazed M-60 machine gunner and Dorian Harewood as a member of the doomed patrol come awfully close as you can see that they’re acting their asses off. They’re both very good actors and their roles are solid pieces of characterization. I especially liked how even though Baldwin’s character shows blatantly open racist attitudes toward Harewood, he’s the first one to object when Harewood’s character is shot and the platoon leader orders that they leave Harewood behind.

But even flawed Stanley Kubrick is way better than most directors at the top of their game and FULL METAL JACKET is a five star package of entertainment on a lot of levels. The dialog is simply great and I love the look of the film. It’s simply amazing to me that Kubrick filmed this entire movie in England (Kubrick hated to fly and he insisted that he film his movies in England and he got what he wanted) The combat scenes in Hue City give the movie a very distinct look from other war movies that are usually filmed in the jungle since combat in a city is waged in a radically different manner from combat in the jungle.

So should you see FULL METAL JACKET If you’ve seen it already, you’re probably a rabid fan of the movie and don’t need any further convincing. But if you haven’t, by all means, rent the sucker and enjoy. As I’ve said, the first hour with Ermey and D’Onofrio is absolutely riveting and even though the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up to the beginning, it’s a classic war movie that I recommend highly.

116 minutes
Rated R. And it deserves it. There’s no sexual scenes in the movie but these are guys in the middle of a war and they speak like guys in the middle of a war so if you have sensitive ears, be warned. And when there is violence, it’s graphic. How many times I gotta tell you? It’s a war movie.

The Whole Wide World


Cineville, Inc./Sony Pictures

Directed by Dan Ireland

Screenplay by Michael Scott Myers

Based on “One Who Walked Alone” by Novalyne Price Ellis

Here’s a romance movie that I think is wonderful for a couple to watch but it’s not exactly the first movie that would come to mind when you and your sweetie hit the Netflix for something cuddle up with.  But you really should give THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD a try.  Let’s face it; aren’t you guys tired of watching “Ghost” over and over and over?

In 1933, Novalyne Price (Renee Zellweger) is an independently minded young woman living in rural West Texas who dreams of going off to college and maybe becoming a teacher.  She really aspires to be a writer.  She has these huge diaries she writes her daily activities in and has been sending off stories to the confession/romance pulp magazines with little success.  She desperately longs for someone to talk to about her ideas and stories and one day while sitting on her porch drinking lemonade, a friend of her drives up and asks her would she like to walk over to his car and meet the greatest pulp writer in the whole wide world: Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio)

Robert E. Howard grew up and lived most of his painfully short life in Cross Plains, Texas and created what is probably the most famous pulp adventure character of all: Conan The Barbarian, the hero of short stories, novels, comic books and movies.  But Robert E. Howard created many more characters than that and wrote so prolifically that whole issues of ‘Weird Tales’ magazines were filled with his stories, written under half a dozen pen names.  Even today nobody is sure exactly how many names Robert E. Howard used or how many stories he wrote.  For me, when it comes to writing, Robert E. Howard has few equals when it comes to sheer storytelling power.  He wrote stories about lusty adventurers who spent their days hunting for treasure, fighting demons and roaming uncharted lands and spent their nights wenching, drinking and gambling.  There’s nothing but total testosterone in a Robert E. Howard story and it’s easy for me to understand why they were so popular during The Depression Era when so many men felt impotent and powerless.  After a hard day of trying your best to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads, for a man in the 30’s, picking up a copy of ‘Weird Tales’ and reading a Conan story where he kills a mad god and makes off with his priceless giant diamond is the equivalent to a modern day Joe Punchclock coming home from work and watching ‘24’ to cheer Jack Bauer kick terrorist scum ass and save The President from being blown up by a neutron bomb in his shower.

Novalyne is totally astonished at meeting someone who actually makes a living by writing and they begin a friendship that develops into a rocky romance.  Novalyne has a mind of her own and is ambitious with an independent spirit.  In that respect she’s somewhat more progressive than most of the other young ladies in the town but she’s never met anybody like Robert Howard who is socially inept and extremely close to his mother, who is in poor health.  When they go out on dates, Bob Howard prefers to take Novalyne on long drives where they can talk about the dreams and aspirations they have as writers.  As much as Novalyne grows to love Bob, she soon realizes that he’s not husband material.  Robert E. Howard is a wonderful man but he lives too much inside of his own head.  And while his incredible imaginative power and lust for life draws her to him, his emotional insensitivity and manic depressive moods drive her away.  They maintain their romantic relationship in a sort of on-and-off again basis but the real romance is between their imaginative minds and the love they both have of writing.

I really love THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD for number of reasons: first of all, while it’s not a straightforward biography of Robert E. Howard, we do get to see some very important moments in his life filtered through the eyes of Novalyne.  And there are some moments between Howard and his mother (Ann Wedgeworth) that are really touching.  You may remember Ann Wedgeworth as the sexpot neighbor on ‘Three’s Company’.  She does a really good job of acting here as Howard’s possessive mother who obviously loves her son a little too much.

The acting by Vincent D’Onofrio is first rate and convinced me that I was looking at Robert E. Howard in the scenes where he’s writing a Conan story and he’s speaking the dialog out loud.  There’s another scene where’s he’s walking down the main street of his home town, shadowboxing an imaginary enemy and mumbling descriptions of the fight that’s taking place as he works out a story in his head.  It’s made clear in the movie that Howard’s neighbors and friends think it’s pretty damn odd for a big grown strapping man such as himself to be making a living writing stories and talking to imaginary people in his head but D’Onofrio plays Howard with such an ‘I-Don’t-Give-A Damn-‘ charm he sells the performance.  Renee Zellweger is simply wonderful as Novalyne Price.  She understands Robert Howard.  She loves Robert Howard.  She thinks Robert Howard is the greatest writer in the whole wide world.  She just can’t allow herself to fall enough in love with him to marry him.  She’s smart enough to see that such a marriage would end in tragedy.   Novalyne Price went on to become a teacher and she wrote the book the movie THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD was based on after she grew angry at reading so many articles that she felt distorted the truth about what Robert E. Howard was like.

The relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price is handled with a great deal of romanticism and sensitivity.  Robert continually amazes Novalyne with the places he takes her to where they gaze upon beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  These scenes also give D’Onofrio a chance to show off the stare he learned from Stanley Kubrick when we worked on “Full Metal Jacket” as Howard tells Novalyne about his stories and in the background we can faintly hear swords crashing together, the curses and yells of men fighting and the sounds of war which get louder and louder until Novalyne says something to snap him out of it.  The thing that really comes across in the movie is that in a lot of ways, both Howard and Novalyne were born out of place and out of time and even though they were lucky enough to meet, they still could not connect on a lot of levels.  It’s a really classically bittersweet love story.

It’s a great movie for lovers of the work of Robert E. Howard as I think it really gives fans of the man and his work a really good look at what his everyday life was like.  It also works as a movie about writers.  Movies about writers are really hard to do since most of the work takes place between their ears.  Fortunately, Robert E. Howard was as big as life as the heroes he wrote about and his life makes for an interesting movie.  I really enjoyed the movie just on that basis since I identify a lot with Robert E. Howard.  Like him, I have no illusions that my work is great art.  I just like telling a good story and Robert E. Howard was one of the best storytellers ever born.  Vincent D’Onofrio does an excellent job of showing Howard’s sheer exuberance and delight at just being able to tell a hell of a good story and I felt that deeply.

So should you see THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD?  Absolutely.  It’s a movie that works as a biography of one of the most influential and popular writers of all time.  It also works as a movie about writers and their internal lives and how they connect, interact and deal with others who are not in tune with those wavelengths writers are in tune with.  And it most definitely works as a romantic film as the relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price is touching, sad, funny, and poignant and I freely admit that the last scene of the movie is one that had my eyes watering.  Netflix THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and watch it with a writer you love.

111 minutes

Rated PG