Mike at the Movies

The Magnificent Seven (PG-13) *****

“The Magnificent Seven” is by far the best film these eyes have seen all summer/fall. A top-notch cast, a superb musical score (yes, you get a chance to hear parts of the original score by Elmer Bernstein), breathtaking cinematography, a clever and fast-paced script and deft handling by its director make its over-two-hour length seem too short.

There are no weaknesses in the cast, headed by Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, a marshal looking to rid the country of a very bad landowner and mine entrepreneur,  Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard). The latter is among the most deadly, vile, completely corrupt and villainous baddies in recent memory. As a mine owner and controller of a small town in Texas, he makes short work of Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer), leaving Cullen’s widow, Emma, behind to organize a mob to avenge him.

Emma collects all the money the village has and uses it to attract seven ostensibly bad dudes who all turn out to be pretty nice guys. Sam organizes them, with ample help from Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, better than he has ever been), Ethan Hawke (“Goodnight Robicheaux”), martial arts professional Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and Martin Sensmeier as the Indian Red Harvest. Together, they organize a defense of the village and are forced to teach the citizens how to fight.

Some of the best moments of the town’s defense are not dealt with until the final fight scene, but by then we are used to surprises in plot and character. The fight scenes are filled with death but not much dismemberment, making them PG-13 instead of R. Pratt is the classic funny assassin, Washington a stern but hearty leader, and all the fighters have their own styles and their own approaches to what would seem to be certain death.

This is the kind of movie that many audience members grew up on: beautiful widows, stalwart leading men, humor, eternal supplies of bullets, death as a certainty once a good guy gets you in his sights, and elimination of the bad guys one-by-one. Most of the characters on the Good Side are given at least some character development, often accomplished by breathtaking close-ups. In fact, the close-ups in the hands of skilled Director Antoine Fuqua almost tell the entire story. External settings stop your breath with their magnificence, and Fuqua wisely borrows a couple of traditional tropes of Westerns—the line of horsemen riding along the top of a ridgeline in silhouette at dusk is one of my favorites.

This may be a bit violent for the youngest set, but your teens should see it to see what movies used to be. Even with all the gunfire and the apparent slaughter, this is one beautiful film. A great way to start the fall season.Deepwater Horizon (PG-13) ****

The faults in this film are not in the characters or the plot but are technical ones, forced by extensive noise, water and complex technical information delivered in the midst of chaos. Mark Wahlberg is Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on board the Deepwater Horizon drilling ship. He later testified that the 11 men who perished in the aftermath of an explosion that destroyed the ship need not have died. There were 126 crew members aboard the vessel—one of the surprises of the film is that the Deepwater Horizon was an actual ship, not a stationary drilling platform. According to Williams, Transocean officials had tampered with alarm systems aboard the ship, in effect disabling them from warning the crew that something had happened. The charges were denied by company engineers, though none of the survivors testified that they heard any alarms during the emergency.

Kurt Russell is “Mister Jimmy,” the commander of the ship, and he suffers greatly, not only from losing crew but from injuries he received in the explosion. It is difficult to imagine the actual atmosphere during the crisis as various parts of the rig blew up continuously as fire reached each part of the structure and it collapsed, piece-by-piece. Peter Berg, the director, opts for atmosphere rather than plot since the plot takes care of itself; the emphasis on what it must have been like leans on spectacular fire and destruction sights and effects. Extreme close-ups are standard and, with the chaos, the noise and the lack of understandable dialogue, it is hard to decipher which crewmembers are doing what.

Gina Rodriguez as Andrea Fleytas, the only female aboard the vessel, does a creditable job acting professionally and holding up her end, though Williams had to guide her out of the final confrontation with the fire and into the sea where she and Williams were picked up by a nearby ship. Kate Hudson is also believable as Williams’ wife while John Malkovich as Vidrine, a company expert, comes off as the villain of the piece, insisting on a second test of the pumping system, a test which triggers the disaster.

Those with a fear of drowning or of fire can avoid this film, and it is probably not appropriate for the youngsters as the violence and mayhem caused by the fire and explosions get pretty intense. An engrossing version of an American tragedy. This fire burned for 87 days and 210 million barrels of oil escaped into the Gulf of Mexico.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (PG-13) ***

It is difficult to assess the target audience for this film. The Ransom Riggs novel must have been targeted for children or young adults since it is pure fantasy, but under Tim Burton’s direction, it becomes passing strange and somewhat frightening. Quickly, Jake (Asa Butterfield) is tipped to a mystery by his dying grandfather (Terence Stamp) who is a teller of tall tales. Following one of grandpa’s stories, Jake ends up on a remote island and soon locates a most peculiar place: a ruined great house where a collection of “peculiar children” live. One floats about unless tethered, another eats with teeth located in the back of her neck, another can freeze anything she touches, another can burn anything she sees, another can grow huge crops in an instant, two are identical though wrapped entirely in cloth, and then there is Miss Peregrine who can turn into a falcon and fly away at a moment’s notice.

All of these skills come in handy in the final confrontation with the “Hollows,” white-eyed monsters led by Samuel L. Jackson as Barron, a real vile ogre who seems indestructible. It turns out that the whole group is trapped in a time loop dating back a number of years but turning on a Nazi bombing of the house in 1943 that turns it into a wreck. The story, in fact, turns into a time-travel one with deadlines for various children to get back to the mansion before the clock runs out—Mrs. Peregrine is a stickler for time.

There are clever scenes that build on the skills of the children, none more creative than the final confrontation in an amusement park in 2016 where every child’s peculiarity becomes a virtue in the war with the Hollows. But there’s the rub: the monsters are so evil and violent and the children so innocent that the younger end of the demographic for this movie would be likely scared to death.

One of the kids has a peculiarity that is actually funny, if perhaps too subtle for the younger set: He hosts thousands of honeybees. At various times and in various scenes he leaks bees, and after a while it gets funny to see them flit around.

Judi Dench has a small part—almost a cameo—and Eva Green is fantastic and fascinating as Miss Peregrine, Ella Purnell is deliciously fantastic as Emma, the floating girl, and Jackson is a wonderful villain who appears, at times, to be Don King. But will your younger set tolerate the horror and violence? That’s up to you.

Masterminds (PG-13) ***

This film is notable mostly, perhaps, for the fact that Zach Galifianakis goes an entire film without smoking dope. His character, David Ghantt, doesn’t really need anything to artificially slow down his mental processes as they are operating at almost terminal slowness already.

Ghantt was a real-life employee at an armored car company that serviced at least one very large bank. Co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kirsten Wiig) pretends to be enamored of Ghantt just long enough to rope him into a heist plan with Steve (Owen Wilson) who puts the “plot” together. Nothing goes as planned but Ghantt somehow gets $17 million in a truck, leaves a surveillance video in its camera, and escapes, more or less, for Mexico and eventually Brazil.

In this mindless movie, however, nothing really goes right and, pursued by inept hit man Jason Sudeikis as Mike McKinney, Ghantt settles into a posh hotel in Mexico only to discover, as the entire audience has already figured out, nobody from the original gang is going to come to Mexico to join him, least of all Kelly. Meanwhile, Kate McKinnon as Jandice, Ghantt’s fiancée, figures out that something’s up. Ghantt is not losing the weight he was supposed to before the wedding. She spells her dilemma out for us. She had a boyfriend before Ghantt. “But that one’s dead. This one’s alive. I think I’ll take the live one.” Ghantt soon yearns for Kelly: “Bonnie needs his Clyde” (mix-up of genders purely Ghantt’s) and Steve sends Mike the hit man after Ghantt with hysterical results.

Ghantt won’t give up. “I’d rob a million banks for you, Kelly Campbell. I’d even rob a funeral home,” he says. Everything moves to a confused finale in which even the police are incompetent.

The only great problem I found with the film is that it is very uneven. The laughs come in bunches and can’t be sustained as they are in solid, great madcap comedies. Galiafinakis is terrific, Wiig is gorgeous and whimsical, Owen is threatening, but somehow the comic momentum is begun and then lost too often. Diverting but not distinguished, but at least it’s dope-free.

Bridget Jones’s Baby (R) ***

Those hoping for a smashing ending to the generally successful Jones series are in for disappointment in this final entry. The cast is all older, of course. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is admitted to be 43 and looks every month of that—Emma Thompson, as her doctor, looks to be about the same age, and Thompson is in her late 50s. But enough about age. Pace is the problem in this final episode in the franchise and it is just too slow for effective slapstick comedy.

Bridget and her colleague in TV, Miranda (Sara Solemani), decide to go to a rock festival, live in yurts and have a sexy girls’ weekend away from London. We are not sure what Miranda does during the weekend, but Bridget meets up with American author Jack (Patrick Dempsey) and finds herself doing what she came to do: have a freestyle romp in the hay. There is an extended cameo for rocker Ed Sheeran who goes unrecognized by the girls (another sign of age) until he performs onstage and we discover that old flame Hugh Grant has perished in an adventure. Clean slate for old nemesis Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) who sweeps Bridget into bed shortly after her episode with Jack. (“I can’t. You’re married,” she says. “Yes, but you’re not,” he says.) Voila! Thanks to carelessness and decades old vegan condoms, a pregnancy results and hilarity is supposed to ensue.

Unfortunately, very little that is funny or original happens from there on out. Bridget gets a new and horrible boss, dedicated to the “new” journalism of sensation without facts, aimed at a younger audience, and we meet the star of the movie (and partial writer) Emma Thompson as Dr. Rawlings, pediatrician, and we’re off to the ultrasounds. Once that happens, the production gets mired in most of the clichés about pregnancy and birth, and we are supposed to care which dude is the dad. It is also unfortunate that the worse Bridget looks, the younger Dr. Rawlings looks, operating not to the benefit of Bridget Jones! One incredible plot point is Bridget’s decision to bypass amniocentesis because the needle is too long. The test would prove which seed started all this.

In the meantime, Zellweger winces, squints and grimaces her way through a succession of outfits that make her look like an aging bag lady until a franchise-ending wedding which settles all questions. Sort of. The “R” rating is mainly for sexual situations and the occasional four-letter word, but in general we’re distinctly in PG-territory here. The first episode, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” remains the best in this series. This one proves that all people, even movie stars, age and are allowed to do and say stupid things. As if we needed more proof of that!

Storks (PG) **

Why must it be that animated features, which try desperately to appeal to parents and children both, don’t control the pace of the dialogue? This movie races along at a breakneck speed with lines slurred and overlapping and becomes completely unintelligible if you care at all about what is being said. You may not care.

The premise is stupid to begin with: Pretend that one of the great myths of childhood, that storks deliver babies, is now defunct. A good way to get your kid audience into the plot. Then have your characters say such dumb things as, “A brief exposure to baby cuteness can change your life forever,” and have the parents of a kid who wants the stork to deliver a baby brother turn into lying capitalists who manipulate their son. Then create a pack of wolves who keep trying to kill the human infant that is the target of the birth by turning into a “Wolf Boat,” “Wolf Submarine, “Wolf Bridge” and “Wolf Minivan” to make their pursuit easier—and scarier.  Given all the possibilities for cute, clever scenes to boil down to one: a silent argument between wolves and others so as not to wake the baby? Tag on a penultimate scary scene to finish the kid audience off and leave a bunch of plotlines dangling, such as “Who are Tulip’s parents and why, in a film that is supposed to be a feel good movie, do you not at least take a shot at explaining that?”

This film reeks of exploitation, and I would not take a child to it. It does the stork myth a great disservice.

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