The Under-Ranked: The Magnificent Seven
Director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington‘s third collaboration, The Magnificent Seven, was released on home media on December 20. A remake of the classic 1960 Western (one of the best of its genre), which was itself a remake of the 1954 classic Seven Samurai (one of the best of its genre), the new Magnificent Seven is one of those rare remakes that pays proper homage to the original while becoming something new that succeeds on its own merits. It takes the basic premise of its predecessor and builds a somewhat different (though still archetypal) story around it, featuring different (though still archetypal) characters. It succeeds at what it sets out to do, telling the classic tale of a stranger (or seven) who rides into town to clean up the bad element with appropriate doses of humor and horror, and featuring as its showpieces some of the most raw, high-energy, lightning-quick, yet well-choreographed shootouts ever put to film.
The Magnificent Seven deserves a higher rank on Flickchart, but so do some of the earlier films of its stars, so let’s take a look at a few that, with a little love and attention, might find a better home on the global chart. (I would like to have focused more on the lesser-knowns of this diverse cast, but Martin Sensmeier and Miguel Garcia-Rulfo have little previous work readily available for viewing, and I am woefully behind on Byung-hun Li‘s career as a star of South Korean cinema.)
Haley Bennett is an up-and-comer who has had the good fortune to be in one of the best Westerns of recent years as well as this past year’s most unique, audacious, boundary-pushing action flick. When I saw the first trailer for Hardcore Henry, I was certain it was for a video game that happened to feature framing cinematics starring Sharlto Copley. It basically looked like a first-person shooter. So when I learned it was an actual movie, I balked; no way could such a gimmick sustain an entire film. But my curiosity got the better of me and I saw it on the big screen. Not only is the gimmick sustained — the entire film is shot from first-person perspective, somehow simultaneously taking both cinéma vérité-style filmmaking and video game-style action to a whole new level — but it tells a good enough story to make you empathize with a protagonist whose face you never see and whose voice you never hear. (Just don’t go looking too hard for a coherent plot.) It also displays an impressive blend of practical stunt work and digital compositing. It’s like a hyper-violent Jackie Chan movie seen entirely from Jackie Chan’s perspective. (Funnily enough, it even contains a scene referencing the original Magnificent Seven.) Expect imitators, though it will be nigh impossible to replicate its success, as any film that tries to follow suit is most certain to stretch the gimmick thin. Hardcore (its original title before receiving a wide release) has been ranked by only 182 people thus far, leaving it languishing at #10244 on the global chart. If you’re an action fan who doesn’t need Dramamine to get through a found footage film, seek out this one and let’s see if we can get it moving up the ranks.
Two years ago, unless you were a Parks & Recreation devotee, you didn’t know who Chris Pratt was. When Take Me Home Tonight was produced in 2007, main star Topher Grace had recently wrapped on That ’70s Show and Chris Pratt was still two years away from Parks & Rec, and a good eight years away from being the marquee name he is now. However, the film was shelved for four years, not seeing a release until 2011. And of course it bombed at the box office, because nobody knew how to market an R-rated coming-of-age comedy that took place in 1988 and featured a running subplot about a bag of cocaine; they didn’t even seem to try. But this movie is sweet, funny, raunchy but good-natured, and really well-written (by Grace and a couple of his former ’70s cohorts). Most of the comedy is organic to the characters, and there are even a few rather profound, surprisingly cliché-free moments about friendship, love, and knowing who you are. Also starring Teresa Palmer, Dan Fogler, 80s icon Michael Biehn, and Pratt’s soon-to-be wife Anna Faris (they met during pre-production), Take Me Home Tonight has been ranked by less than a thousand people and sits at #6577, but it deserves at least as much respect as those ’80s coming-of-age classics that begat it.
This one is a two-fer. Eighteen years before appearing together in The Magnificent Seven, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio played brothers, along with Matthew McConaughey and Skeet Ulrich, in The Newton Boys. These four brothers formed the core of a real-life gang of notorious bankrobbers during the 1920s; they were extremely successful until they decided to switch gears and try for a record-breaking train heist. They weren’t killers, which allows The Newton Boys to be an airier outlaw film than most without sacrificing real-world grit. It is one of director Richard Linklater‘s lowest-ranked films on Flickchart, but I suspect that has something to do with it being ranked by less than 500 users (compared to his highest-ranked film Before Sunrise, which has been ranked by more than 5,000). It is also one of his most singular: a traditionally-told period piece that shows Linklater to be as adept with action scenes as he is with drama and comedy. The Newton Boys are stuck behind bars at #7811; let’s see if we can spring these boys to greater infamy.
Finally, we come back to Denzel Washington. Washington has built a career playing intense men in intense movies, but in 1996 he allowed his comedic side a rare breather when he helped develop and then starred in the holiday comedy The Preacher’s Wife (a remake of the The Bishop’s Wife from 1947). A bit long on runtime and a bit light on plot, The Preacher’s Wife nevertheless succeeds as an old-fashioned rom-com on the strengths of its wonderful soundtrack and the charisma of its three leads: Courtney B. Vance is a pastor losing his faith; the late Whitney Houston is his wife, in one of only four silver screen roles of her career; and Washington is the angel Dudley, who returns to earth 30 years after his death to help the couple through a time of crisis. Denzel exudes charm, and it would be lovely to see him in more lighthearted roles like this. The Preacher’s Wife has been ranked by 549 people and sits in a solitary pew at #9417, praying for deliverance. Give it a watch this holiday season and see if the Christmas spirit moves you to help this angel find its wings.
And, if you love a good Western, let’s support the filmmakers who are still taking chances on the genre, and check out The Magnificent Seven before they remake it again!