Tag Archives: Antoine Fuqua

Ride ‘Em Cowboy

‘Magnificent Seven’ brings western past into focus with Hollywood present

Vincent D'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee

Meet the new ‘Magnificent Seven’: Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee

The Magnificent Seven
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard & Haley Bennett
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
PG-13

The western pretty much trotted into the sunset decades ago, but every once in a while something gallops out of Hollywood that reminds us just what a big deal cowboys used to be.

And the cowboy, as depicted and polished by Hollywood and pop culture, remains one of America’s most potent mythic figures—a rugged, rustic, stoic, individualistic, self-sacrificing hero, good with a gun and sometimes even better with women.

The Magnificent Seven gets a lot of its retro dust honestly. For starters, it’s a remake of a remake: The original Seven, in 1960, was an all-star Americanized version of a 1954 Japanese classic, Seven Samurai, in which a samurai warrior and six others band together to defend a village from marauding bandits.

Director Antoine Fuqua certainly knows how to make an action-packed project click into place, with clear-cut lines between good guys and bad guys, a lofty morality-lesson overlay and a dark undertow of bloody revenge.

Denzel Washington;Chris Pratt

Denzel Washington plays bounty hunter Sam Chisholm.

The star here is clearly Denzel Washington—his collaboration with Fuqua in Training Day brought him an Oscar, and the two also worked together in The Equalizer. He plays sure-shot bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, who comes to the aid of a small frontier town under the rule of ruthless robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his murderous cutthroat bodyguards. Bogue has poisoned the water supply, set fire to the church, enslaved the local men to work in his gold mine and demanded that the residents either sell out, move out—or else.

Beseeched by a firebrand widow (Haley Bennett) whose husband was killed by Bogue’s thugs, Chisholm—whose very name evokes the title of a 1970 John Wayne western, Chisum—assembles a group to help reclaim the town.

The multinational, cross-cultural rainbow coalition looks awesome onscreen, but it feels more like an Old West Suicide Squad—or a colorful team of Avengers assembled by way of High Noon—much more than an organic group of renegades and rogues, despite all the grime, grit, dirt, sweat, stubble and scruff.

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt is heavy-drinking, wisecracking Josh Faraday, whose skill with cards helps him in more ways than one. Ethan Hawke’s erudite former Confederate sharpshooter is haunted by ghosts of his wartime past. His Chinese partner (Byung-hun Lee) can do lethal wonders with any type of blade or firearm.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a hunky Mexican outlaw whose vicious skillset makes him a valuable member of the seven. A young renegade Comanche (Martin Sensmeier) likes the gallant cause and wants to come aboard. Vincent D’Onofrio’s big, Bible-quoting mountain man is a holy terror—and an audience favorite.

Bullets fly, bodies fall, blood flows, hooves thunder, jokey banter gets bantered, dynamite goes ka-boom. There’s a particularly twisty twist at the end that you won’t see coming. You may catch—or imagine—wispy glimpses of the ghosts of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and other western icons looming and lurking around the edges of some of the scenes.

With a winning combo of gunpowder and star power, The Magnificent Seven brings the cowboy past into focus with the Hollywood present. If you like your popcorn sprinkled with old-fashioned, good-guy gusto, it’s as rip-roaring a time that’s come along on horseback in years.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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A New Champ

Jake Gyllenhaal is pounding, pummeling prizefighter in ‘Southpaw’

SOUTHPAW

Rachel McAdams and Jake Gyllenhaal star in ‘Southpaw’

Southpaw

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams & Forrest Whittaker

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

R

The first thing you see in Southpaw is quite literal—it’s the left hand, the “south paw,” of boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he prepares to enter the ring at Madison Square Garden.

That paw, and its awesome knockout power, has lifted Hope from his humble, hardscrabble orphanage origins to the top of the prizefighting world, where he now reigns as the light heavyweight champ. But how much more pounding, pummeling, bruising and bleeding can the champ take—and give?

As he comes home from another victorious match, his precious young daughter (Oona Laurence) gets up from her bed and puts on her glasses to better see the his fresh scars and cuts.

“The more you get hit, the harder you fight, I get it,” his beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) tells him, pleading with him to stop—or at least take a long break.

SOUTHPAW

Billy’s manager (rapper 50 Cent) pushes him to bigger, more lucrative fights.

Billy’s manager (rapper 50 Cent) prods him in a different direction. “If it makes money, it makes sense,” he says, urging him to sign a three-year, three-fight, $30 million deal with HBO. A cocky young Columbian upstart (Miguel Gomez) itches for a fight. “You ain’t ever been hit by a real man!” he taunts him. Maureen warns Billy of his swirl of hangers-on, warning him they will scatter like “cockroaches” once his bubble of money and success bursts.

And burst it does, and worse, in a tragic and terrible turn of events. Hope is dethroned, forced to give up his home and stripped of everything that ever meant anything to him. Starting again from the bottom, he works with a demanding trainer (Forrest Whittaker) to try to put the pieces of his crashed, crumbled life together again.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL stars in SOUTHPAW. Photo: Scott Garfield © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a classic tale told anew, and not without its share of clichés. But Gyllenhaal is phenomenal, adding yet another role to his growing resume of parts that it’s hard to imagine going to any other actor (although rapper Eminem was reportedly considered). With a shaved head, 200 pounds of ripped and rippling muscle, a billboard of tattoos across his body and a perennially banged-up face, he’s almost unrecognizable. But it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.

Working from an original story by Kurt Sutter, the creator/writer/producer/director of TV’s Sons of Anarchy, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer) weaves a powerful human drama about home and family into the framework of a dynamic, rousing boxing saga. A soundtrack of tunes from Eminem, the Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes and other hip-hop artists helps set the scene in today’s f-bombing, bling-a-fied realm of modern sports, a world away from The Champ, Raging Bull and Rocky. The camerawork and choreography of the fighting scenes are outstanding—and so realistic, you’ll probably be checking your garments for splat and spatter when you leave the theater.

SOUTHPAWIt may not be everyone’s idea of relaxing, uplifting escapist matinee balm. But above and beyond the brutal, visceral slaps, jabs, and upper cuts is a bigger, softer story, a tale of a father and a daughter on a journey of emotional homecoming that packs quite a punch of its own.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Bloody Balancing Act

Denzel Washington is avenging angel in re-do of ‘80s TV show

Denzel Washington

The Equalizer

Starring Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz & Marton Csokas

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Rated R

A quote from Mark Twain gives a stately, dignified opening to this avenging-angel saga before Denzel Washington gets down to business with some serious lethal skills.

“The two most important days in your life are the day were born and the day you find out why,” reads the words of the great American man of letters, setting the stage for the epiphany that will put Washington’s character, Robert McCall, on a path of bloody retribution after a young teenage prostitute he has kindly befriended (Chloë Grace Moretz) is beaten to a pulp by members of a vicious Russian mob.

Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloë Grace Moretz

Former music-video director Antoine Fuqua, who also steered Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen, continues a “literary” thread throughout the film. Washington’s character is working his way through 100 books “every American should read,” like The Old Man and the Sea and Don Quixote. The chief Russian baddie is named Vladimir Puskin, a mashup of Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, and Alexander Puskin, one of that country’s iconic authors and poets of yore.

But that’s just a bunch of blah-blah-blah when it comes down to what this movie’s really about, which is Denzel Washington snappin’ necks, slicin’ veins and takin’ names as he unravels a web of crime and corruption that spreads high, low, deep and wide. Some viewers may recall the TV show from the late ’80s, starring British actor Edward Woodward. The flick takes some liberties, but keeps the concept basically the same: When big, bad guys start pushing little, good guys around, someone has to step in and stabilize—“equalize”—things.

And usually, those “things” get violent—and messy. Washington is a fine actor, as he’s demonstrated many times before, but The Equalizer doesn’t gives his character any real depth or dimension as he stoically, sternly navigates the muddy, bloody moral ground of revenge and reprisal. And his “numbness” only adds to the movie’s feel of “dumbness,” of a story that’s punctuated with moments of gory, hyper-stylized action but hollowed out of anything smart, meaningful, purposeful or original.

For her star billing, Morenz has little actual screen time. Melissa Leto and Bill Pullman make late appearances as acquaintances of McCall’s that help explain how such an ordinary-looking guy honed such extraordinary fighting chops. Marton Csokas plays a particularly nasty Russian “fixer”—ladies, believe me, you never want him behind you, purring into your ear, telling you how beautiful you are, slowly wrapping your head in his hands. And roly-poly Johnny Skourtis becomes an audience favorite as one of McCall’s coworkers (at a “big box” home-improvement store) who later comes through in a pinch.

Denzel WashingtonThat “pinch” is the movie’s big climatic showdown between McCall and the Russian mobsters, set in the store, which provides not only a dramatic setting—with long corridors, deep shadows and high ceilings—but also an arsenal of weaponry, including a cordless drill, barbed wire, a tree pruner and a nail gun, for McCall to even the score

Some viewers may cheer the new Equalizer in all his “valiant” violence, at a time and on a planet spinning seemingly out of control with mayhem, madmen and monsters. But I’m willing to bet Mark Twain would probably be aghast at all the angry blood spilled and smeared over his homespun affirmation about coming into this world, and simply finding out what you’re supposed to do now that you’re here.

—Neil Pond, American Profile and Parade magazines

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