Tag Archives: western

Failed Critics Podcast: The Not-so-bad Four

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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.

Hell or High Water

“God I love West Texas.”

If I said to you that I’d just seen an awesome cowboy movie filled with bad guys you love, good guys you kind of hope aren’t successful in their pursuits, gunfights, bank robberies and beautiful scenic shots across the rolling hills of Texas, you’d think I was describing an old Eastwood or Wayne movie wouldn’t you?

But friends, I’m not. I’m talking about modern crime drama Hell or High Water, the latest film from Starred Up director David MacKenzie and Sicario (and large amount of Sons of Anarchy) writer Taylor Sheridan.

Not long after the death of their mother, broke divorcee Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) hatch a desperate plan to rob a string of banks to make enough money to save the ranch they are about to lose to said banks. Hoping to launder their proceeds through local casinos, pay off their debts and vanish off into the sunset, the brothers plan finds itself in serious danger of falling apart when Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) gets handed their case.

Desperate for some action before he retires, the grizzled Ranger and his partner Alberto Parker (native American-for-hire Gil Birmingham) trek across the state to chase the would-be cowboys. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues that will test the resolve of both the lawmen and the brothers.

No fannying about here today guys. No messing around with my words. Hell of High Water is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. I can honestly say I’ve not seen a crime drama as thoughtfully put together as this film since Michael Mann remade his own film into the epic Heat way back in 1995.

Now obviously that’s a big statement to make with no explanation, to compare this film to one of the most beloved crime dramas ever made, so allow me just a few lines won’t you? While it doesn’t have the star power – not quite – or the run time (clocking in at more than an hour less than the LA crime saga) Hell or High Water does have a pedigree behind the camera that could easily rival that of the 1995 thriller. Perfectly written and amazingly slow burning, this modern cowboy film balances itself brilliantly between time spent with our outlaw anti-heroes and our long-in-the-tooth cop. It implores the audience to ponder who we’d really like to see come out victorious come the credits, forcing us to truly wonder if there could ever be a winner here at all.

Continuing my comparison though, our leads bring career performances worthy of award recognition (OK, maybe not Oscars, although I’d love that. But maybe an MTV award or something). I don’t think I’ve ever praised a Chris Pine performance before, but here we get to see him do something completely different – and man is he great. His terrifically understated performance as the smarter of the brothers, trying to keep out of prison and rescue his family from a mountain of debt caused by the banks they are robbing, is mesmerising. More like this please, Mr Pine.

Similarly, Ben Foster’s ex-con is the brawn of the pair. The hot-headed bank robber keeps them on the edge of getting caught the entire time and while he thinks he’s doing the best for his brother, he just can’t see how dangerous his moves are. A brilliant performance from a man not entirely new to the Western genre. With the excellent Jeff Bridges wrapping up this trio of great performances, the Hollywood veteran brings a little bit of that lifelong experience to his role and gives a memorable performance as the old ranger, desperate for one last reason to unholster his pistol.

Which brings me to my final point really. Hell or High Water is a western, plain and simple. I know that the utterance of that word conjures up images of grizzled old men rustling cows, riding horses into town draped in long beaten up trench coats for a bit of a shoot out. But this film is proof, if you needed it, that the genre has evolved to something wholly modern. The times may have changed, but the story is without a doubt the same. Men struggling to make ends meet when their only viable skill isn’t in great demand anymore and turning to the outlaw life to keep food on the table. Lawmen chasing these men to hell and back to bring them to justice, hoping they see another day in this most dangerous of professions. All the tropes of the Western are here; and all brought up to date with modern ideologies.

The director makes no bones about sharing his thoughts on the state of the country. His issues with the dying industries of the Texas countryside or the second amendment are all out there and plain to see. But while his politics are brazen, it doesn’t detract from the film for one second.

Backing all this up with some splendid cinematography that captures the country and the mood perfectly, and a soundtrack that mixes a few old country songs with some dirty southern rock, this film really is the whole package.

Hell or High Water is, simply put, the purest Western movie I’ve seen in more than a decade and one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen in even longer. Tense, exhilarating and a real joy to watch; I fully expect this on a few top 10 lists at the end of the year.

Failed Critics Podcast: The Hateful Bolshoi Bowie Overdogs

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With the tragic passing of one of British music’s most iconic people earlier this week, our latest episode features a touching tribute to the pioneer that was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Jareth the Goblin King or just simply ‘David Bowie’. Failed Critics founder and Bowie super-fan, James Diamond, returns for a short emotional farewell to one of the most inspirational figures of this and last century.

We even dug up a clip from an episode we recorded back in 2012 when James went to the inaugural Bowiefest in London and have edited into the post-credits of this week’s podcast.

Elsewhere, Steve Norman hosts with Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne back for reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, The Hateful Eight, starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and more. Loads more. More than eight others.

Owen also reviews the fly-on-the-wall documentary Bolshoi Babylon, from the producer of Man On Wire and Searching for Sugarman, about the historic ballet theatre company in Moscow and all of its recent scandals. Meanwhile, Brooker indulges himself with the surfer-cop-classic Point Break in preparation for the imminent remake’s release.

We even took a few minutes to scratch our heads over the Golden Globe categories, never-mind the winners that were announced this past weekend.

Join us again next week for reviews of Creed, Room and The Revenant.

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The Ridiculous 6

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A new two-hour long Netflix Original was released yesterday called The Ridiculous 6. It’s the second Netflix Original Film, after Beasts of No Nation, and the first of four (yes, four) productions by Adam Sandler for the online streaming service.

Set in the wild west, The Ridiculous 6 is a spoof of old fashioned westerns, taking its title from John Sturgess’s 1960 genre-defining classic The Magnificent Seven – well, duh – and is most likely also a pop at Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight. Kind of like how the bastions of quality over at the Asylum try to copy other bigger budget, better films with their mockbuster titles.

In it, Sandler is joined by his usual posse of sycophantic chums, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia and Terry Crews. One by one, they each discover that they all share the same dad (Nick Nolte) and heralded by the “Injun” raised Sandler, set out to steal enough money to pay a ransom to a bandit (Danny Trejo) to save their absent father’s life.

For the past few years, the branding ‘Netflix Original’ has been something of a mark of quality. Generally speaking. From some of their earlier productions like the award winning original dramas Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, to more recent shows such as Better Call Saul and Daredevil, their label has been a signifier of some level of quality. Even when some of their more ambitious projects like Sense 8 have left me impressed but overwhelmed, I still kept faith in their ability to produce new and exciting material.

Although, with some of their more recent output like the smug-fest that was the God-awful joyless A Very Murray Christmas, my faith is being tested more often than I’d prefer it to be.

Back in October last year, it was announced that the first Netflix movie was in production. It seemed inevitable that they would be producing feature films sooner or later. Whilst we’re still waiting for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny to get up and stop hiding, somehow this piece of garbage wrangled its way into production and onto my YouView box.

I tried with the best will in the world to give it a chance on Friday afternoon. I managed to reach the 15 minute mark before holding my hands up in the air, declaring “nope”, and then switching it off. I couldn’t stand any more of it. I took a breather, watched a few episodes of the excellent Narcos, and then finished The Ridiculous 6 off afterwards, all so I could confidently state that it is without question the worst Adam Sandler film that I’ve had the misfortune to waste 120 minutes on.

It’s meant to be a spoof of westerns in general, particularly the stereotypes that those old movies often employed; yet I see it more as a spoof of Adam Sandler’s ability to keep getting huge wads of cash to make lowest common denominator, repetitive, unoriginal, schmalzy, unfunny, complete and utter fucking dog shit over and over again. Only, instead of a satire of Sandler’s monopoly on “buckets of turd” (an actual line from the film) made by a much funnier comedian, it’s actually not a spoof. It really is the 50 year old actor still pretending to be 13 years old.

It has every single Adam Sandler trademark that you can think of. There are: attractive women desperately trying to capture his attention (but he’s too cool for that, given his already very attractive fiancé); “hahaha he’s black ahaha and we’re white ahahahahaha”; sidelined female characters (and that’s stretching it calling them characters); an elderly person saying something along the lines of “ow that’s gotta hurt”; an animal and related dick / toilet humour, etc. I can’t think of a single “joke” that you might associate with an Adam Sandler film, that isn’t right here in the opening 15 minutes.

And who can blame him? How much money has this schtick made him and his production company, Happy Madison Productions? If you come at this from a business perspective, thinking of Adam Sandler as just some other guy who goes to work like everybody else and earns a living, then there really is no reason for him to change what he does given that there’s clearly a paying audience for this constant barrage of mindless twaddle.

What makes it more infuriating is that I can’t hate The Ridiculous 6 for being bad, because I actually thought it was well directed by Frank Coraci – to a certain degree. It’s a film that’s meant to be seen in 4k, a service that Netflix charges users more for, suggesting that they clearly see Adam Sandler as not only a draw for new customers, but also enticing existing subscribers to upgrade. Not me, I can do without seeing his smug unbothered face in ultra-high definition, thank you very much.

My point is that there clearly was a lot of effort put into making it look very snazzy. There are plenty of lovely individual shots of the old west, as well as nice sequences that give it a bit of a spaghetti western feeling, even though it was shot in New Mexico rather than the cheapest most expansive land in Italy or Spain. The costumes are also rather cool in their own way too, adding a bit of character to otherwise quite bland caricatures. I just get the impression that everybody working on The Ridiculous 6, from set designers to the well-stocked suppliers of push-up bras, they all seemed to want to do something good with this film.

That’s everyone except for Adam Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy. I’m not suggesting they intended to make a bad film. Worse, I’m implying that they’re incapable of it. In an effort to put together a semi-cohesive story with a couple of call backs and set ups along the way, it appears as though they just decided to forgo writing clever, funny gags. Instead, I think they went straight to a local charity shop to spend 50p on a children’s joke book from the 1970’s.

At one point, a farting donkey sprays shit all over a wall for no apparent reason whatsoever except so that he can do it again later at a slightly more opportune time without it appearing to be too random. At another point in the plot, there’s a rock that looks like a giant phallus because LOL IT’S A ROCK THAT LOOKS LIKE A COCK, which impresses everyone with its size, except for Crews because he’s black lololol. Taylor Lautner plays a retard who laughs at every joke so you, the expectedly similarly retarded audience, also know when to laugh.

Which, in hindsight, is fair enough because I certainly didn’t know when to laugh.

It’s not even that the cast are unlikeable. I have a lot of time for Terry Crews. Brooklyn Nine-NineThe Expendables series, even White Chicks, he’s pretty damn funny in them. But here, he’s reduced to little more than token black guy who makes jokes only at the expense of his race. Jorge Garcia does fat-guy-falls-down. Schneider is a donkey-loving Mexican. Luke Wilson is Luke Wilson. It’s just thinly veiled attempts to satirise the pervasive stereotypes of old without having anything new to say about it. It mimics the offensiveness with neither subtlety nor impetus.

The less said about the controversial portrayal of native Americans, the better (although the whole “four out of 150 stormed out during production” seems to be something of a storm in a teacup.)

For a comedy, it is the biggest crock of shit that I’ve seen all year. The worst thing is, is that I knew it would be and yet I still wanted to give it a go because of that Netflix Original brand. With another three of these films to go, regardless of the quality of Beasts of No Nation, I’m beginning to think that maybe they should have just stuck to making original shows, steering clear of the movie business. Because if the poisonous Sandler infection spreads and Netflix ends up as a syphon for his bankroll (this fucking film cost $60-fucking-million to make) then I may have to reconsider my subscription.

But hey, if you’re looking for something to submit in your “worst 3 films of the year” category for the Failed Critics Awards, then why not give it a shot.