Review – Lucky 7! ( “The Magnificent Seven”)

September. It must be time for another remake! In the unceasing, unstoppable Hollywood parade of remaking movies that were just fine on their own, here’s a remake that is, well, not too shabby as far as remakes go. And this particular title has seen its fare share of remakes, believe me!

In this version, set in the 1870s and shortly after the Civil War, the town of Rose Creek is under siege by mining industrialist (and psychotic) Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). After he tries to buy the town from the farmers there–who do a surprising little amount of actual farming–for a pittance of what the land is worth, the God-fearing people crumble like a stack of Pringles. Bogue even kills a stray few people, just to prove his point, including the husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who dared to speak up. Yeah, this guy’s insane, all right.

Driven to desperation, Emma and her friend, Teddy (Luke Grimes), go to a nearby town and hire a quick-triggered bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to help their town. Sam then recruits gambler and jokester, Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), legendary gentleman shootist Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner, a deadly Korean knife expert called Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), “Grizzly Adams”-type tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and finally a young Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Arriving in Rose Creek, the seven engage in a gunfight with Bogue’s 22 henchmen and wipe them out in an explosive shoot-out, but that only means that Bogue will bring an army in a week. Naturally, the seven will have to train the townspeople to defend themselves in your basic montage. We learn more about the seven here and there and find out that red-haired Emma is a natural with a gun. Well, fancy that! We also learn that Robicheaux has lost his nerve to fight and leaves the group just as Bogue and his huge collection of bad guys are about to descend on the town.

The grand finale has all the townspeople using dynamite, guns, ropes, shovels, anything they have, to stop the hoard of rampaging horsemen into town. It’s a cornucopia of carnage of untold proportions as bodies get blown away and start to pile up on the streets. (Note: It’s PG-13, so the violence isn’t Tarantino-style buckets o’blood ‘n’ guts spewing everywhere; there’s little blood shown). Bullets fly, arrows whizz by, and a Gatling gun is brought in to give the townspeople a final coup de grâce. Each of our heroes give it their best shot to shoot as many bad guys before they themselves get turned into Swiss cheese, except for three of them, who manage to survive this Western apocalypse. No, I ain’t sayin’ who survives!

Directed by Antoine Fuqua with great flair and a keen eye; the suspense and flavor of the old Western theme is everywhere and feels great. With an over-written screenplay by Nick Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2), this long 2 hrs 12 mins film could have been tweaked with better exposition, but the basic structure does pay homage to the original movie. The real excitement lies in the actual battles, which are just as nail-biting as the one’s from Braveheart or Silverado. There’s also a wickedly beautiful score by the late James Horner and Simon Franglen that adds to the overall scope of the movie with some terrific cinematography by Mauro Fiore.

Although the dialoge here isn’t Sorkin, the fun is watching the two main stars: Washington and Pratt who carry the film with their easy-going charm and dynamic presence. Pratt is there to add the comic relief and even goes psycho on occasion, to show a nice unexpected twist to his character, while Washington (like Yul Brynner in the original) is the glue that holds the picture together with his quiet, yet powerful authority. Look for beautiful and spunky Bennett in her understated role, and the team of Hawke and Lee, who have nice chemistry as best friends. As far as remakes go, it’s far better than the recent slew that we’ve been getting! 

 
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
*
Oh yeah, this is the one that almost started it all! Hey, let’s face it, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai was the original and lead the way for all imitators since. It was this Western that paved the way for American culture to run with the whole ‘hire people to save a village” plot and spin it every imaginable way possible from a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life storyline. And it hasn’t stopped yet.

The plot is very simple: a sleepy little Mexican farming village town is constantly harassed and threatened by nasty Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang of bad guys, so the village men go out to the neighboring town to hire mercenaries to fight them. They find team leader Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), the gunslinger in black and drifter Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) to help them locate more. With a meager offer of food, room & board, and a poultry $20, they get knife and gun master Britt (James Coburn), down-on-his-luck professional Bernardo (Charles Bronson), slick con-man Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), and elegant veteran gunman Lee (Robert Vaughn) whose lost his edge. They also acquire Chico (Horst Buchholz), a young wanna-be shootist who joins up, despite the others reservations.

Back at the village, they meet Calvera when he comes a’callin’, but it looks like a Mexican stand-off at first (sorry!). After a brief shoot-out, Calvera skedaddles and promises revenge, so the seven decide to teach the innocent villagers how to shoot and protect themselves. Slowly our heroes begin to bond with the natives, especially Chico, who develops a serious crush on Petra (Rosenda Monteros) and Bernardo, who gets a fan club of three young boys. Chico, being sneaky, infiltrates Calvera’s camp and overhears their plans for attack, so the guys decide to go after them at daybreak.

>But, surprise! Calvera turns the tables on the seven and ambushes them, forcing them to leave the village… or die! They leave, but return to finish the job they were contracted to do with bullets flying and the body count adding up. In the end, the good guys win, but at a terrible cost. This movie sparked not one, but three sequels, a 1998 TV series, and countless rip-offs, spoof’s, parodies, and more twisted contrivances than ANY other movie plot EVER!

>The script, tossed around and re-written several times, was credited to William Roberts, but was pre-written by Walter Newman and Walter Bernstein before Roberts changed it, and all of it based on the magnificent Japanese movie that lit the fuse in 1954. John Sturges directed this movie with a quick hand and let the guys play around with their characters; just look at McQueen who was always fiddling with his hat as a means to pull focus from Brynner. Also, it was Robert Vaughn who got James Coburn his job on this film, since the two were college pals and met one night at a supermarket.

Oh, and let’s not forget the iconic Elmer Bernstein score which has gone down in history as SO recognizable, everyone knows the tune. This is just a well-written, well-directed, well-acted movie all-around that is not only a classic Western, but an iconic Western that is remembered world over.

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