Tag Archives: Antoine Fuqua

Failed Critics Podcast: The Not-so-bad Four

magnificent-seven

Yeehaw, listeners! It’s a darn tootin’ mighty fine show we’ve got for you this week. Hosts Steve ‘the kid’ Norman and Smilin’ Owen Hughes are joined by pardners The Liam With No Surname and Django Brooker for a special westerns triple bill episode.

Their pistols are cocked and ready to fire on each of their favourite three westerns in honour of this week’s big new release, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun amongst others.

A ‘west’ inspired quiz opened the podcast with the score delicately poised at 2-2 between Owen and Steve, who was just one loss away from watching the abhorrent Killer Bitch. There was also time for a short chat about the furore over the latest images from the Jumanji sequel.

Join us again next week for reviews of Deepwater Horizon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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The Magnificent Seven

“I seek righteousness, as we all should. But I’ll take revenge.”

Can you believe it? Just as I say one of the best films of the year is a Western in a time when both modern and classic style westerns are either lacking or simply not a thing anymore, along comes the second one is as many months that isn’t only excellent, but has all those classic hallmarks that made the greats from all those years ago, well.. great.

Now in their third collaboration together (after Training Day and The Equalizer) director Antoine Fuqua and average Joe badass for hire Denzel Washington return to us with a remake of a remake of a remake, The Magnificent Seven.

When landowner and businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing) rolls into Rose Creek wanting to take control of the little town, killing a bunch of people and threatening the rest, newly created widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett, The Equalizer) goes in search of someone to help her rescue her town from the merciless industrialist.

As luck would have it, she finds Sam Chisholm (Washington), a lawman who seemingly wants nothing to do with her problem until Bogue’s name come up. Setting out to recruit a few more guys good with guns, Chisholm assembles The Magnificent Seven. Sharpshooter and gambler Josh Farady (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt) is the first to join and is sent off to grab legendary soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (I will go with Training Day‘s Ethan Hawke) and his sidekick Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun, of I Saw The Devil and The Good, The Bad, The Weird fame), while Chisholm goes to find outlaw Vasquez (From Dusk til Dawn‘s Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

Coming along for the ride and helping to build an army from the small town’s residents are skilled tracker and famous Indian hunter Jack Horne (Daredevil‘s Vincent D’Onofrio) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Senmeiser, soon to be seen in the Westworld remake).

But even with this collection of certified badasses, Rose Creek is going to need more than a slight miracle to overcome the land baron and his army of hired guns.

Now, it must be fifteen years since I last saw, well, any iteration of The Magnificent Seven – or Seven Samurai – so I had to go into this latest version of the classic as if I was watching a brand new film and not compare it to any of the others. And as such, I reckon The Magnificent Seven is a damn fine film.

Every member of the cast has their part to play, and does so perfectly. Even as the film quickly becomes the manly-man filled, trope-infused guns and trench coats film you expect it to, every single person feels perfect in their place.

This is a huge thing for me. The announcement of Chris Pratt joining the production previously left me worried for the film. I was concerned that he was being brought in for comic relief and not because he was the right man for the part; but boy was I wrong. In fact, Pratt’s presence in this film, while not entirely straight-faced, is one of the more seriously played roles here. Second only to that of the near silent Native American, most of Farady’s jokes actually fall rather flat, with several of his cast mates enjoying much better one-liners.

And like I said, everyone here is perfect on screen, but one man I reckon needs special mention (and it’s not Mr. Washington, as you may think). While Denzel has been awesome in recent years, he’s often just playing the near invincible ass kicker character that he perfected back in the days of Man on Fire‘s John Creasy. While he’s just as awesome here, in his perfect black getup that even out in the desert never seems to get a spec of dust on it, he’s not the man I’m talking about.

I’m talking about Vincent D’Onofrio; a man I’ve been a fan of for decades (literally) who outshines everyone he’s on the screen with with his wise-cracking, near-psychopathic tracker Jack Horn. This bear of a man, so often overlooked, is easily the best and purest bad ass on that screen. From his introduction to the end credits, he’s a joy to watch.

Antoine Fuqua’s direction is superb. A man who got famous with films like Training Day does a fantastic job of capturing the old west look and feel, giving us that ‘comfortable slippers’ vibe while still managing to feel somewhat fresh.

Action feels fast and frenetic, balanced out with slower moments for story and exposition; the film keeps the pace spot-on and interesting in every frame. The Magnificent Seven‘s two hour and change run-time doesn’t feel long or drawn out. Instead of praying for it to be over, I found myself wanting more. A rarity for this most masculine of action genres.

All in all, The Magnificent Seven feels like a return to those Westerns we all used to love. The ones that Film4 delight in putting on during weekday afternoons. The ones your old man used to watch. It’s a killer cast having a ton of fun working for an excellent director and it shows. This remake of a classic is destined to be a classic, in and of itself in years to come. It is, in a word, magnificent.

What I won’t be voting for in 2015

As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.

Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.


Foxcatcher

steve_carell_foxcatcher1Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.


Legendmaxresdefault-2

Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age-of-Ultron-0003Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.


Southpaw

SOUTHPAW

I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.


SPECTRE

spectre-daniel-craigThis might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.

Southpaw

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

southpaw 2015She’s hurting too. You’ve got to let her hate you, so she can get better.

I got hit by a southpaw guy once. I honestly thought he’d broken or popped something the second that his foot hit my unguarded and unprepared ribs. As the pain of the hit went through me, I thought I was going to die! I wheezed, I hit the deck and I called time on what was nothing more than a typical Tuesday night training session. To fight “southpaw” is, for want of a better description, to fight lefty. To switch your stance in such a way that punches (and kicks) are thrown from the wrong direction for your opponent. It provides a tactical advantage over the guy in front of you, fighting what is essentially a mirror image of yourself isn’t easy to combat. It’s harder still when a well trained fighter switches stance halfway through a fight, suddenly changing how you have to fight and defend and opening you up for a world of hurt.

Now, my little story is from an MMA point of view, and no matter the discipline, the term “southpaw” always means the same thing, but it’s primarily a boxing term and boxing is where we find ourselves with Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest drama, a film about a man who suddenly loses everything and simply doesn’t know how to cope without the things most precious to him.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a champion boxer with 43 wins and no losses under that huge championship belt. Nicknamed “The Great”, Billy’s strengths lie in his ability to take a beating, to get hit over and over again and still have the strength in him, in his arms to throw enough punches to get the win. Always moving forwards, always getting in close is Billy’s key to success. A man impossible to beat into submission, a rabid dog who knows only how to bite and keep biting until he’s pulled off of his victim. But, on the flipside of that coin, once Billy is outside of the ring, he’s a doting family man; living only for his wife Maureen, his childhood sweetheart who came through the fostering system with him, and his daughter Leila, a headstrong kid who adores her fighter dad.

“The Great” Hope’s life is turned upside down when a charity dinner turns bloody and Maureen is the victim of a stray bullet fired in the heat of the moment. As Billy is forced to watch the life drain from the love of his life as she dies in his arms, as the light leaves her eyes, it begins to leave Billy’s too. With the woman that anchors his life suddenly gone, Billy spirals out of control and, try as he might, he can’t drag himself up from the hole he has found himself in and his daughter is beginning to feel the consequences of her dad’s actions.

After Billy is pushed into his next fight by his manager, uncaring of Billy’s situation and only smelling the money, the once proud, undefeated warrior lets himself take a beating in the ring hoping for some kind of deliverance in the hits he’s taking. Not defending himself, not fighting back, after the fight is stopped, events quickly take a turn for the worse and a rash decision on the boxer’s part quickly snowball and leave him without a home, without an income and with the State of New York taking Leila into care subject to Hope getting his act together and proving that he’s a man worthy of the title of “Father”.

At rock bottom and needing help clawing his way back up, Hope turns to Forest Whitaker’s Tick Willis. A former pro coach turned gym owner who spends his time training the neighbourhood kids and keeping them out of trouble. In a last-ditch attempt to get back his pride, his dignity and his little girl, Billy puts his trust in Tick to lead him down the right path to find some form of salvation from the road that he’s found himself on.

Southpaw comes to us from a pretty heavy hitting team-up. Starting with a great turn from Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for last year’s Nightcrawler, puts in an outstanding performance as the broken and beaten Billy Hope. A man who couldn’t be beaten in the ring but couldn’t hold it together outside of it. Direction duties come courtesy of one of my favourite directors working at the moment, Antoine Fuqua. Apart from the fact that he made Training Day, one of my all-time favourite films, he’s turned his hand to a few different genres with a few well known actors and has always been able to make an enjoyable film with what he’s given and that trend absolutely continues with Southpaw. But maybe my biggest surprise was when I discovered that it had been written by Kurt Sutter. A man not everyone knows, but those that do, know that his work is outstanding. Most famous for creating motorcycle drama Sons of Anarchy and being on long-term writing duty for The Shield, Sutter has put together a powerful film with enough emotional pull to get the heart straining at what you’re seeing on screen.

But, outshining all of them, even Gyllenhaal’s impressive change into Billy Hope and his spectacular performance, is (at the time of writing) twelve year old Oona Laurence’s performance as Leila Hope. As Billy’s heart, soul and reason for living, she stole every scene from Gyllenhaal and put in an award worthy show as the distraught little girl who’s lost her mum and is being wrenched from her dad. As one half of Billy’s “fighter” and “father” moniker tattooed along his arms, her fight is almost as great as his as she has to grieve and try to be a grown up for her dad. All of the magic of Southpaw comes from her performance. Every look of anger and disappointment from her will make your heart sink and every glimmer of pride for her old man will make all but the soulless weep for her.

The bottom line, is that Southpaw doesn’t really break any new ground. It’s a redemption story that has been told a hundred times before. Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to Billy Hope is a spectacular one and a testament to how hard he worked to make his fights look as painful as they do with Fuqua’s direction making every hit hurt and every quiet moment tense. The film’s Oscar worthy performances, its strangely under-stated direction and its great script make it shine above other similar films. Fuqua and Sutter do an amazing job of subtly playing to the fears of every guy wanting to be a dad to their kids and NEEDING to be a man to their daughters. By the time I left the film last night, I was suitably emotionally drained and desperate to get home and hug my little girl, that’s praise enough for me.

You already know if you’re Southpaw‘s audience. Those that are, will love the little over two hours you’ll spend with Billy Hope on his journey for salvation. Those that aren’t, well, I’m sure there’s a talking animal film on for you somewhere.