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Non-Review Review: Fences

Fences is a superb play, with a great cast, that makes for a reasonably solid film.

Fences was adapted by playwright August Wilson from his 1983 Pulitzer-Prize-winning stage play. Although Wilson passed away in 2005, the resulting film is very faithful to that stage-bound sensitivity. Perhaps out of respect for the writer, or out of respect for the story’s origin on the stage, director Denzel Washington never really pushes Fences beyond its source material. Fences has a superb A-list cast, but it never quite feels like a feature film adaptation.

Living life to the Maxson.

Living life to the Maxson.

Instead, Fences feels like it is trapped somewhere in the limbo between stage and screen, feeling like one of those adaptations from the earliest days of television when the medium never knew exactly where it fell between those two pillars. Fences retains a tight cast and a very fixed location, much like the stage play. It retains monologues and confrontations that play out over extended scenes that recall theatre rather than taking advantage of cinema’s ability to let time lapse.

To be fair, the cast superb and the source material is impressive. It is easy to understand why Washington adopted such a reverent and respectful approach to the cinematic adaptation. However, Fences never feels like anything more than the sum of its very impressive parts. In fact, it might feel like a little less.

Mending fences.

Tightly-knit family unit.

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Non-Review Review: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven is a western, pure and simple.

It is not a deconstruction. It is not a reconstruction. It is not filtered through the lense of postmodernism or through the prism of postcolonialism. It does not interrogate the underlying assumptions of the western, nor does it explore the relationship between the myth of the frontier and the brutal reality. From beginning to end, through and through, The Magnificent Seven is very much a straightforward execution of the familiar western tropes delivered with a minimum of irony or reflection.

"Ain't we magnificent?"

“Ain’t we magnificent?”

There is a certain charm to this. Director Antoine Fuqua takes great pleasure in running through the standard western tropes, particularly those epic tracking steadicam shots of riders galloping through acres of beautiful countryside as the theme music builds. There is a certain pleasure to be had in The Magnificent Seven as a film resistant to modernisation, a film content in the assumption that the language and iconography of the genre does not need to be tweaked or updated beyond the application of some computer-generated imagery and a modern cast.

There is also something deeply frustrating in all of this, something that reduces The Magnificent Seven to a rather lifeless collection of western imagery tied together in a fairly unimaginative way without anything particularly bold or exciting to say.

The sky's the limit.

The sky’s the limit.

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Non-Review Review: The Equaliser

Appropriately enough for a movie featuring a climax that might be dubbed “Die Hard at the Home Depot”, The Equaliser does exactly what it says on the tin.

The revenge thriller is a tried-and-tested storytelling model. Similarly “the unstoppable killing machine relapses” is a pretty effective stock plot element. There is very little surprising to be found in The Equaliser. There’s never any real doubt about our hero. There’s never a twist that can’t be seen coming a mile away. Appropriately enough, given our hero’s fixation on time-keeping, everything in The Equaliser is constructed like clockwork. There is minimal clutter, no extraneous element. It works right out of the box.

When all you have is a hammer...

When all you have is a hammer…

And yet, despite that, it largely works. For all that one can follow instructions, watch-making is an artform. The Equaliser may not be an exceptional example of the form, but it is a fine demonstration of just how much technical skill counts in putting something like this together. Denzel Washington may be the most likeable leading man of his generation. Even when he is attacking mobsters with corkscrews or suffocating adversaries in their cars, there’s something strangely charming about him.

It helps that director Antoine Fuqua goes all in on The Equaliser. There are no half-measures here. The Equaliser doesn’t just hit the necessary beats. It smashes them.

Tears in the rain...

Tears in the rain…

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Non-Review Review: Flight

Flight has a lot to recommend it. It has an interesting subject, a fantastic central performance and wonderful supporting cast. As a result, it’s a shame that the movie makes such a mess of all these things. Flight is never less than interesting and Washington is always watchable, but it isn’t quite as compelling as a two-hour drama film needs to be. Director Robert Zemeckis struggles a bit with the tone of the piece, and Flight seems to be a bit all over the place, making it quite difficult to enjoy and hard to engage with.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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Non-Review Review: Virtuosity

Virtuosity is a hybrid monster, a veritable Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from various ideas and concepts you’ve seen done elsewhere and better. In a way, it feels like the logical combination of Hollywood’s fascination with two nineties genres that the studios never really understood. One part cybernetic internet-era technological thriller to one part serial killer movie, Virtuosity feels like a volatile cocktail that needs to be handled with care. If there is a way to work this curious blend of genres, it’s with a very delicate and nuanced. Unfortunately, neither Eric Bernt’s script nor Brett Leonard’s direction can really make anything of what should at least be a pulpy premise. Russell Crowe does do an excellent job as the cybernetic serial killer, though.

Crowe’s agent should screen his scripts better…

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Tony Scott, R.I.P.

One of the downsides to running a blog the way that I run a blog is that I don’t always have the opportunity to respond to news as it breaks. As such, in writing about the passing of director Tony Scott, pretty much everything that I would say has been said by the time I can publish this, and far more eloquently than I could ever hope to say it. Obviously, I never knew Tony Scott personally, so I won’t comment on the man himself – although the tributes from those who did know him are deeply moving. I knew Tony Scott as countless film fans knew the director, through his work. And that work meant a lot to me.

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The Stars That Never Were: The “Next Big Thing” That Never Quite Happened…

I was watching Safe House over the weekend. It was fairly okay, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I was watching Ryan Reynolds headlining a film with Denzel Washington. It was only last year that it seemed Reynolds was being given a massive push by Hollywood. It’s always interesting to look at the actors who received a very substantial push from Hollywood, only to barely miss their shot at legitimate stardom – those actors and actresses heralded as “the next big thing”, seemingly the subject of every talk show and newspaper clipping for the better part of a year, only to fall a little bit short of the mark and to end up fading. It’s a cruel industry, and it is sometimes a little disheartening to see the way that certain performers get swallowed up whole by it.

Not quite playing it Safe (House)…

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