Posts Tagged ‘Luke Grimes’

Reclaiming the West

The Magnificent Seven

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Director:  Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Martin Sensmeier, Cam Gigandet

Antoine Fuqua gathers his favourite actors into his latest impressive film.

In Fuqua’s bespoke remake of John Sturgeon’s 1960 classic film The Magnificent Seven, as an African American film director he reclaims the Western genre in a bold step towards reimagining American Western mythology which will surely shape how cinema goers view the Western film genre.

Gone are the days of Western films primarily being made up of morally dubious cowboys mostly played by dashing European actors fighting savage Red Indians or each other in high noon stand offs.

Director Fuqua’s superb The Magnificent Seven is as diverse as Westerns come, showing that while perceptions of the American West have largely been Eurocentric, the real history of the American West was far more complex.

The setting is Rose Creek, California in 1879. A small dusty town a three day ride away from the Californian state capital Sacramento, at the height of the Gold Rush.

Rose Creek is being tormented by a malicious industrialist Bartholomew Bogue wonderfully played against type by character actor Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine), who not only burns down the moral centre of the town, the church, but casually kills some its town folk, much to the horror of the remaining witnesses.

Rose Creek’s town representative, a feisty widow Emma Cullen, played by rising star Haley Bennett enlists the help of sharp shooter Chisolm, expertly played by Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory).

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Chisolm gathers a motley crew of cowboys and one red Indian, consisting of the heavy drinking Irishman Josh Faraday, comically played by Chris Pratt, sharp shooter Goodnight Robicheaux played by Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Before Sunrise), lonesome tracker Jack Horne played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Rocks played by Korean star Byung-hun Lee, Vasquez, played by rising Mexican star Manual Garcia-Rulfo last seen in Cake opposite Jennifer Aniston and finally Native American actor Martin Sensmeier who plays Comanche Indian Red Harvest.

With the gang in tow and the town folk galvanized for action, audiences should expect the final gun battle of Rose creek to be thrilling. Fortunately this is where The Magnificent Seven delivers as the final act of the film is truly brilliant, with superb sound editing and haunting production design, Fuqua pays homage to the original version and to the genre as a whole while deftly reimagining Westerns as a more diverse and multi-cultural affair.

Not since the Coen brothers reworking of the Oscar nominated True Grit, have I enjoyed a Western as much. The Magnificent Seven does justice to its genre assisted by superb performances by Washington and Sarsgaard as opponents with a vicious score to settle.

Audiences that enjoyed James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers True Grit, will love Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven as he reclaims the Western genre and hopefully opens the doors for this much loved film genre to be bravely re-explored in the 21st century. This is a genre which desperately needs a Hollywood resurgence.

Now if only a director could tackle a film version of Cormac McCarthy’s brutal tale of the Mexican frontier wars in his gripping Western novel, Blood Meridian, then that would be a film worth seeing.

The Alpha Male Syndrome

American Sniper

american_sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Eric Close, Kier O’ Donnell, Jonathan Groff

After Bradley Cooper’s amazing performances in two of director David O. Russell’s films Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Cooper utterly transforms himself physically for the role of Chris Kyle, the most honoured sniper in the American military in director Clint Eastwood’s sparse and taut war film American Sniper.

Cooper plays the ultimate Alpha Male, who is taught to hunt as a boy by his masochistic father and is heavily influenced by the notions of God, country and family something that pervades most of the Republican ethos of Texas. Kyle’s unsuccessful career as a cowboy rodeo rider is short lived after he decides through a series of mediated Television coverages first of the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and then more crucially in the historic events of 9/11 that he must do his part in protecting America from the ever growing threat of Al-Qaeda and join the almighty US military.

Kyle joins the auspicious navy seals and through a rigorous training programme soon transforms into an Alpha male, a lean, mean fighting machine ready to protect American borders at any cost. Kyle is not interested in the politics of the situation, his unrelenting patriotism drives him to commit to the US war effort with an unflinching ferocity.

At Kyle’s wedding to the flirty yet insubstantial Taya following a bar room pickup, he is soon called up to fight in Iraq. Fallujah to be exact, which is hell on earth and symbolic of urban terror and warfare at its most bloodiest.

Kyle’s special gifts as a sniper are put to good use although controversially his targets are not always his equals in those he kills. Sometimes he is forced to pull the trigger on woman and children, a decision which haunts him profoundly on his return trips to the States, where his pregnant wife Taya is attempting to establish some form of domestic bliss.

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Something which Kyle after witnessing and participating in the atrocities of a vicious war in a foreign land, finds himself difficult to reconcile with. Kyle’s shock at being back in American domestic life is akin to the World War One soldiers suffering from shell shock after attempts at reintegration have failed.

After spending four tours in Iraq at the height of the US-Led invasion of Iraq from 2003 onwards and over 1000 days in a conflict zone, any recourse to settle down is a long way off. This conflict between Kyle’s wartime experiences and his scenes with his wife and children back home, especially those between him and Taya, played by Sienna Miller, is not as convincingly portrayed as in Kathryn Bigelow’s superb war drama The Hurt Locker.

Unlike Zero Dark Thirty which delved into the complexity of the American invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, American Sniper clears politics from the cinematic palette, making it a much harsher film especially the unnerving scenes in Iraq which Kyle handles with an intensity and bravado which Cooper imbues with his complete physical transformation. In short Bradley Cooper utterly captivates the audience with his tragic and sombre performance of Chris Kyle, a quintessentially doomed American hero.

Eastwood’s direction is steady and besides the domestic scenes which are questionable due to Sienna Miller not having the emotional resonance to make Taya Kyle utterly believable, the warzone sequences are utterly riveting and Bradley Cooper’s performance as Chris Kyle lifts this films out of being just another patriotic tribute to American heroism especially considering the bizarre circumstances of Kyle’s tragic end to his life, which is underscored with irony and a profound message about America’s constant fascination with artillery and the second amendment.

American Sniper is an excellent film, highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Hurt Locker and Fury and is sure to spark controversial debate especially in light of the current Geo-political tensions occurring between America and the Middle East specifically Iraq and Syria.

 

From Bogota to Turkish Revenge

Taken 2

Getting Tested in Turkey

Los Angeles always used to be portrayed cinematically as a potentially dangerous place, but now in the much anticipated sequel to Taken, aptly named Taken 2, it is the more exotic location of Istanbul that is proving to be treacherous with shady Albanians bent on revenge on retired CIA operative Brian Mills played with zest by Liam Neeson and his family who make a brief visit to the Turkish city.

Taken 2 follows a very similar storyline to Olivier Megaton’s 2011 hit Columbiana featuring the agile Zoe Saldanha who escapes crime ridden Bogota to the safety of America where she trains to be a superb and silent assassin in Chicago to avenge her parents’ murder by the king of a Colombian drug cartel.

Colombiana

Colombiana was big on storyline as well as action and highly engaging featuring a great supporting cast including Callum Blue, Michael Vartan and Cliff Curtis. Megaton’s directorial traits as demonstrated in Colombiana are repeated with less flourish in Taken 2, expertly making use of Istanbul as a fantastic action location as he did with Bogota and Chicago. Where Colombiana succeeded was that the narrative was more original and the action sequence more inventive especially as it wasn’t a sequel. Where Taken 2 succeeded was that it was brilliant as formulaic sequel using the similar revenge, kidnap and violence scenario of the original film Taken.

The 2008 film Taken was set in Paris and directed by Pierre Morel, both films were penned by the writing duo Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen.  Taken 2 and Columbiana have all the traits of a Luc Besson film echoing his ventures as a director in Leon, the Professional and the groundbreaking 1997 hit The Fifth Element. Luc Besson as screenwriter has penned lots of high volume action films over the past decade including The Transporter series, From Paris with Love and Revolver, so while Taken 2 is not as fulfilling plot wise as the original it is just as watchable.

Taken

Using the same cast from the original film Taken (always a good recipe for a successful sequel), Taken 2 features an overprotective and ultra-alert Liam Neeson as Mills along with neurotic ex wife Lenore played by Famke Janssen and more switched on daughter Kim played by Maggie Grace as they journey to Istanbul.

Taken 2 is not big on plot but really a sequel to the success of the original film, involving expertly edited action sequences and some brilliant inventive sound editing which makes it a rather quick and violent excursion in Istanbul not to mention an engaging high velocity action thriller. Maggie Grace shines as the daughter and Megaton’s fluid direction makes Taken 2 a thrill ride making the most of the Turkish city without having to engage too much of the viewers intellect. In fact it is the city Istanbul and Maggie Grace which makes Taken 2 so watchable and those superb 30 minutes after the initial kidnapping has occurred. It’s no wonder that both Taken and Taken 2 has made a killing at the box office.

If viewers enjoyed Colombiana, Taken, From Paris with Love, then Taken 2 will be the perfect way to spend 91 minutes watching Neeson do what he does best. Take revenge in a foreign city in this case Turkish revenge where Istanbul is a nefarious environment and Los Angeles is inadvertently portrayed as a relative safe haven.

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