Saturday 21 April 2018

Film review: Magnificent Seven - action-packed and full of great set pieces

Cert: 12A. Now Showing

The cast of Ira Sach's low-key drama 'Little Men'
The cast of Ira Sach's low-key drama 'Little Men'

'Can you name the seven actors who starred in the Magnificent Seven?' was a pub quiz question in the 1980s. Now you might have more luck asking people to guess how old the original movie is.

Old enough for a remake, thought Antoine Fuqua, whose best-known previous film is probably Training Day, which starred Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, actors he has worked with often and whom he calls on again for his remake of The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel is more than able for the Yul Brynner role, bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, who is approached by Rose Creek resident and token film female Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to save the town from evil prospector Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Act One proceeds with the rounding up of a more racially diverse seven than in the original, (Washington, Hawke, Chris Prat, Vincent d'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Byung-hun Lee), each with a different reason to be there.

Act Two then is the motley crew's arrival in Rose Creek, a farming town ill-prepared for self-defence or revenge but who the Seven, along with feisty Emma, must whip into shape. And then comes Act Three, action-packed and full of great set pieces.

It's well over two hours long and that time doesn't feel overdone - westerns aren't everyone's bag but they're having a moment of sorts and Fuqua delivers all the tropes the genre requires. It is ­spectacular, has lots of great lines - most of which go to Pratt - and the ­performances are all solid, although Sarsgaard isn't great as the baddie.

The film flirts with a few moral themes via d'Onofrio and Hawke's characters in particular, but its moral compass isn't strong. The jury is out on the whole concept of remakes but given the answer to the quiz question, maybe it was time. (And that horrifying answer is 56 years.) 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Little Men

Cert: PG. In selected cinemas.

Brian (Greg Kinnear) is a struggling stage actor who relocates wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and 13-year-old son Jake (Theo Taplitz) to his late father's Brooklyn apartment. The building has a tenant in the form of ground-floor store-owner Leonor (Pauline Gracia) and her young son Tony (Michael Barbieri).

Jake and Tony quickly form a steadfast friendship and become inseparable despite being quite different lads. Jake is shy, artistic and gentle, while Tony is mouthy, cocksure and brash. Parallel to their comradeship, Brian is addressing the nature of Leonor's tenancy. She has been paying way below market rate for the shop thanks to Brian's soft-touch father. Under pressure from his sister, Brian suggests a moderate rent increase to try and keep everyone happy. Leonor is unimpressed and digs her heels in. The strife naturally threatens the boys' friendship.

Memphis filmmaker Ira Sachs's seventh film is a delicate and unobtrusive naturalist drama that sits back and watches human interaction take its course. The central bromance between these boys, both making their first steps towards adulthood, is very touching to behold, largely due to the excellent performances of the two youngsters. Kinnear brings sincerity to the role of the husband and father trying to balance his duties to individual family members while Garcia is an exercise in miffed restraint.

Sachs's less-is-more directing style does make for some stunning moments between Jake and Tony where the mood crackles with a low-wattage hum. For some, however, Little Men may prove slightly too threadbare in both premise and execution to fully invest in. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

The Girl with all the Gifts

Cert 15A; Now Showing

With so many genres and sub-genres done to death the most logical path to originality for any story is to cross-pollinate and subvert some of the conventions. The results can be mixed, like Gangster Squad (nominally a gangster film but with war film conventions) or brilliant like Her (Sci-fi with romcom conventions) but they are rarely boring.

However they can suffer because they're difficult to package and hard to know to whom to pitch. The Girl With All the Gifts runs the risk of falling between stools, it's a kind of zombie drama which works on many levels.

In this Mike Carey adapts his own best-selling teen novel of the same name for Colm (Sherlock, Doctor Who) McCarthy's big screen directorial debut. The post-apocalypse story concerns a fungal infection which has turned most of the world into "hungries", which is a terrible name for zombies. A decade or so in and non-infected humans are limited to life in a few heavily-guarded isolated spots. In a camp in England a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is one of several children imprisoned and closely guarded. But Melanie is special and attracts the attention of both scientist Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) and teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).

Their intentions for the girl are very different however, whilst the teacher is only affectionate, the scientist sees a project. But just as she is about to complete her project the hungries overrun the camp and scientist, teacher, Melanie and a few soldiers under the command of Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) find themselves fleeing for their lives with nothing but a few guns and some scent disguising spray.

I rather thought that Glenn Close hammed up the mad scientist thing but she was vital, if nothing else for plot exposition. Through her we learn that the reason Melanie is so special is that she is second-generation hungry, evolved from the mindless flesh-eating zombies of the first wave and a possessor of the brain and spine which might offer a vaccine and save humanity. All of the usual obstacles befall the group, in-house squabbling, car trouble and there are many almost cliche story conventions about people not being what they seem and who gets to live and who has to die. The effects, especially the shots of a decimated London, are quite ropey, and borderline product placement-ish. Both script and directing needed to be a bit tighter, pacing is off, the second act needed better editing but the film works on lots of levels.

It's always good to see Paddy Considine and both he and Gemma Arterton deliver in albeit not terribly demanding roles.

Newcomer Sennia Nanua almost inevitably steals the show, giving an excellent performance in the lead. There is an interesting conclusion, some good lines and despite the flabby midriff the story does roll along well, offering an appeal that is far broader than the teen novel origin might suggest. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Dare To Be Wild

Cert: PG. In selected cinemas.

A Cinderella story plucked straight from the herbaceous borders of the Chelsea Flower Show, Dare To Be Wild very much pins its colours to the wall from the get-go. Lawyer-turned-filmmaker Vivienne De Courcy has said that this biopic of Irish landscaping wunderkind Mary Reynolds was to be an antidote to doom-and-gloom in the omniplex. You'd never accuse her debut of shirking its duties.

The luminous smile of Emma Greenwell (Love and Friendship) is centre stage as the Wexford girl who at 28 became the youngest ever gold medallist at the illustrious gardening event. The film plots her route to this huge achievement and the philosophy of "rewilding" that still infuses her passion as a landscape designer to this very day.

We see her as a kooky, unsure young girl working for a vampish panto-villain boss played by Christine Marzano. She lays eyes on green-fingered dreamboat Christy Collard (Tom Hughes) and is a gushing mess. Collard, of Bantry ethical nursery business Future Forests, would become her right-hand man in actualising her magnificent, Celtic-tinged designs. In De Courcy's film, however, the character provides the throbbing romantic pulse.

With Prince Charming secured (a tasteful chapter set in Ethiopia) and Marzano's wicked stepmother evaded, Mary has to find the huge sponsorship money to accompany her application to the floral ball. These fairytale flourishes, a superb soundtrack and a potent environmental message are the film's finer qualities and source of its undeniable charm. It is let down, though, by tacky visual effects, some mawkish dialogue and clunky editing. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

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