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Hammerle on... 'The Magnificent Seven,' 'Snowden,' 'The Hollars'

October 5, 2016

bob hammerle movie reviews“The Magnificent Seven”

“The Magnificent Seven” defines a great American Western cinematic adventure. Unfortunately, I’m referring to the film directed by John Sturges in 1960, not the recent release by director Antoine Fuqua.

hammerle-magnificent7-rating.gifInvolving a stellar cast of fabulous actors that included Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn, the original was a touching film about bad guys who discovered a moral compass that led them to put their lives on the line to save a small Mexican village from being extorted by a group of renegades.

While the new film captures the same theme, three-fourths of this two-hour movie was little more than one gigantic gun battle resulting in multiple deaths. Denzel Washington replaces Mr. Brynner as the leader of the “Seven,” though he is sadly little more than a poker-faced bounty hunter largely devoid of any emotion.

Though Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio are the best known actors composing Washington’s delightful henchmen, the most memorable performances are given by Martin Sensmeier, Lee Byung-Hun and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. Every scene they are in adds strength to the film, and they bring an occasional sense of humor that makes the usually funny Mr. Pratt look like a bad stand-up comic.

I’ve never shared the criticism directed at Mr. Sturgis’ film for its alleged clichéd treatment of the besieged Mexican village. On the contrary, if you are going to find fault, then direct it at the film. With the village now inhabited by a large group of white Americans, it was laughable that their recently widowed spokeswoman (Haley Bennett) constantly appeared in a revealing blouse for reasons that were all too obvious.

Finally, it was interesting that the strength of the two films came from the leading villains. Eli Wallach was one nasty character in the original, while Peter Sarsgaard was equally great as a heartless capitalist who viewed people as little more than sheep waiting to be sheared. If the character he played (Bartholomew Bogue) was alive today, he would make a perfect CEO for Wells Fargo.

“Snowden”

Let’s get two things straight. First, Edward Snowden deserves a national pardon, pure and simple. What he did was a service to the American people, and to prosecute him is an open statement to all whistleblowers, “Thank you for your work, now go to jail.”

hammerle-snowden-rating.gifSecondly, if you really want to see a great movie about Snowden, then go see the Oscar-winning documentary released two years ago and leave Oliver Stone’s film on the shelf. The documentary told Snowden’s story in first person as it happened, a rarity that defines the genius of that film.

Here, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a wonderful job playing Snowden in the same fashion that he embodied Philippe Petit, the daring high-wire adventurer who walked between New York’s Twin Towers in Robert Zemeckis’ totally overlooked “The Walk.” Unfortunately, both of these movies will go largely unseen despite Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s performances.

The principle reason is that Snowden, by his own admission, is largely a dull boy. Trying to honorably pursue a career with National Security Agency, he gradually discovers that the United States government is spying on its own citizens. Becoming abhorred by the government he works for, he eventually hooks up with London journalists to tell his story.

Sensational actors Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson do an expected fine job playing the London journalists. However, the actual journalists did an even better job playing themselves in the above-referred documentary.

As an aging movie-goer, I learned in the memorable film “1984” (1956) that Big Brother was watching. That seemed like fictional nonsense at the time, but try to tell that to Mr. Snowden.

“The Hollars”

“The Hollars,” directed by John Krasinski, is equal parts sophomoric and meaningful. It is a story about a disconnected family trying to come together in a moment of tragedy, and it has an ending that saves the entire film.

hammerle-hollars-rating.gifIn a nutshell, Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins play Sally and Don Hollar, a couple who have learned to both love and tolerate each other after 35 years of marriage. When it becomes apparent that she has been suffering side effects leading to a brain tumor that hospitalizes her, her husband breaks down in tears when he is chided for thinking that his wife needed to do nothing more than join Jenny Craig to combat her weight problem.

That moment is both funny and sad, and pretty much describes the rest of the film. Dad’s business is facing bankruptcy that caused him to lay off Ron, his emotionally troubled son. Played by the wonderful South African actor Sharlto Copley, Ron is forced to live with his parents while regretting a divorce that has separated him from his two daughters.

In the process a second son, John (Krasinski), arrives from New York where he is trying to write a graphic novel. John’s girlfriend (the wonderful Anna Kendrick), is pregnant with twins, and she is forced to go to John’s side when it becomes apparent that he is a bit fascinated with an old high school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Martindale dominates the film as a woman reflecting on her life as she faces possible death. While I am paraphrasing this, she advises her sons to face life with a smile as everything will work out in the end.

Mothers always seem to know how to embrace life. The film’s ending will soften your hardened heart.•

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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