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living in Israel
makes a living out of computers and computer networks
best films ever - Casablanca, The Great Dictator, Citizen Kane
likes travelling, blues, rock and jazz music, reading, sports (especially football), and of course - films
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Faust without Satan
I have somehow avoided seeing There Will Be Blood for ten years despite its success, and despite having as lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis who got his second Academy Award for this role. The reason is that I was under the impression that this is one of those Big American Sagas which make great impression at the Oscars but seldom have convinced me to jump on their ship of emotions. This is true to some extent, as the film deals with the period of the beginning of oil drilling in the United States, the very important difference being that this saga has not an American Hero but and American Anti-Hero as main character. Which probably makes the film even more interesting.
The story takes starts before the turn of the 19th to the 20th century and ends in the late 1920s, following the raising of an oil magnate from his first discovery of one oil pit to his taking over a small empire of oil fields and the building of the pipes that ensure the transportation. Daniel Plainview, the character played by Day-Lewis seems to come from nowhere and grows from being nothing to the status of a millionaire. Achieving this takes not only luck and a complete lack of any scruples in dealing with competitors, friends or his very close ones - it also takes his soul. The story is kind of Faustian, it's just that Satan never shows up, or maybe he is there during the whole story under the form of the black gold. The script is loosely based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, with the difference that while in the Socialist writer novel the emphasis is on the social aspects with a critical view of the Capitalist system, in this adaptation it's the moral aspects that prevail, with Planview's character finding a counterpart and nemesis in preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). It's the material world faced with the possible spiritual salvation, another Faustian theme if you wish, but the preacher character eventually proves to be as corrupt and empty in substance as its arch-rival, which makes it unable to fulfill its goal. The destinies of the two are interleaved and they both end in damnation. Director Paul Thomas Anderson opens here a theme which he will continue in his next great picture The Master which offered Philip Seymour Hoffman the opportunity of incarnating one of his last greatest roles.
At the end of the day, telling the story of an American hero or of an American anti-hero does not look that different. It is still one of these sagas starting in the days of the rush for gold and ending when the rush for the black gold - the oil - stabilizes into the big corporations consolidations. The lead hero does not seem to have real roots in history or a specific place, and he needs none as most of the attention is focused on its deeds, mostly evil, with the exception of the personal survival story that is being told in the first 15 minutes. As any saga that respects itself it's long, which in cinema today means more that two and a half hours, which according to tastes and attention pass more or less easy. Daniel Day-Lewis's performance is superb, he fills the screen with his personality to the point that the balance between his character and the one played by Paul Dano is broken in his favor. Dano acts well but he just cannot raise to the height and intensity of Day-Lewis. There Will Be Blood is one of those movies which cannot be really placed in a specific box, or in more than one - they just build to themselves a category and a name of their own.
couple drama in an insecure world
Films are one good media for taking the pulse of a society at a certain moment in time, for surfacing explicitly or implicitly its problems, for making it known beyond borders of countries or cultures. Iran is a country little and badly known in the world. We may read or listen a lot about its politicians and external conflicts, we know very little about the day-to-day life in the country, about the problems, feelings and dreams of its people. This is why films coming from Iran raise interest and those coming from a fine film-maker as Ashgar Farhadi are among the best.
Watching a film like The Salesman is an exercise not too different than the one we experience(d) when we are (were) watching in the 60s, 70s, 80s films coming from the Soviet Union, Poland, or other countries under Communist rule. It is important to watch what you see on screen to its most minuscule detail that can hide hints or symbols. It is even more important to think about what you cannot see on screen, which you know could not be said because of censorship, or maybe it was said and fell on the floor because of different types of pressure. This film is the story of a family drama triggered by the brutal attack on a married woman. She and her husband (both middle class intellectuals, amateur actors playing 'Death of a Salesman' in the evenings') do not go to the police to put a complain because they know the system is corrupt and biased against the woman, rather then protecting her and trying to find and punish the criminal. We are in the Middle East however, and honor plays an important role, so the husband engages in a personal vendetta which has as a goal not necessarily vengeance but recovering the honor of the victim and exposing the attacker to the blame of his own family. The subtle insertion of theater in film hints to many other aspects that are rather implicit than explicit - the attraction to the Western culture, the cosmetic changes brought to the play, actors, costumes in order to make it acceptable to the Islamic religious norms.
There is another comparison to be made with another film that was a candidate this year at the Best Foreign Language Award at the Academy (which The Salesman won) - Paul Verhoeven's Elle. In both films we deal with aftermaths of brutal attacks on women - but what a difference between the attitude of the two women - and the reasons are clearly psychological and cultural.
The film-making style looks familiar to viewers who have been exposed to Middle East cinema. The story telling, some of the dialogues, the relations between the characters reminded me dome of the Israeli 'burekas' movies, with families and neighbors interaction, with the mix of comedy and melodrama. Director Asghar Farhadi develops this approach much beyond its limits, aiming to reach a more international audience with the relation to Arthur Miller's play. He is helped by the splendid acting of his two lead actors Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini who both give expressive and discrete performances, full of controlled passion and dignity, which make the tough situations described on screen more easy to follow. I was less impressed by the final solution where life seems to follow its own rule and the characters lose voice in face of stronger forces. This sounded a little anti-climax and undecided. I will not say however more, in order to avoid telling too much about a film I do recommend to all viewers.
dreams of the Internet
My relation with German director Werner Herzog and his films is dating back about four decades. Sometime in the 70s I attended a 'festival of West German film' which I do not know how escaped the censorship filters in my native Romania. That week I saw several of the films of filmmakers in the generation representing the 'New German Film "which became one of the most interesting trends of the 70s in international cinema. Of all movies the strongest impression made to me 'Aguirre, the Wrath of Gods' - a historical drama set in the period of the 'Conquista' - the Spanish colonization of South America - starring Klaus Kinski, an extraordinary actor. The name the movie director was Werner Herzog was.
The career of the film-maker which once was called by Francois Truffaut "the most important film director alive" has had many ups and downs. Part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's generation, together with Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff and Wim Wenders his interests and artistic endeavors diversified after the 80s. Documentaries seems to be the area that gave the most rewards and enjoyed appreciation lately. His most recent film in this category 'Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World' is the history, present and future of the Internet. A subject that of course intrigued me allowing a unique encounter between my passion for cinema and one of the most interesting filmmakers of the movie industry, and my profession (and life passion) - the Internet.
The ten episodes of the film treat in somewhat chronological order the beginnings of the Internet, its achievements and problems, and its future with opportunities and risks. The first short episode aroused interest and created nostalgia of those who lived the era of the beginnings of communications between computers, or - like me - had the opportunity to personally meet some of the heroes of those times. Leonard Kleinrock is one of those who attended the first attempt to establish communication between computers located in the Californian universities in Los Angeles and Stanford. The electrical cabinet (actually a computer with a tiny computing power compared to any mobile phone today, but a peak of technology in the late 60s) that initiated the communication in the episode described in the film was trying to send word 'log' (to login) to the remote machine. However, the first message ever sent over the Internet encountered first 'bug' on the Internet, and caused the first 'crash', so that the third letter of the word, a 'g' never appeared on the other side. It's just that 'lo' from the beginning of the movie title that offers the chance of a play of words in English using the expression 'lo and behold' which means surprise event that we might call in today's hi-tech language as 'disrupting '.
Each of the other nine segments addresses from different perspectives the relationship between information technology and communications in the world we live today or or the world of the future. There are for example segments about artificial intelligence and its applications in intelligent transports, the Web's beginnings and development prospects of hypertext communications, about Internet safety and the unbearable easy security attacks, about the connection between electronic games and smart development programs. Several other topics were abandoned during production, for example those related to electronic payments and currency Bitcoin, although someday footage may appear and be made public. Known personalities including Bob Kahn, Elon Musk and Tim Berners-Lee appear in the film. Some episodes are more pessimistic and discuss the dangers and threats introduced by the Internet - impressive being the one about the family photos decrying the child died in an accident traffic incident are made public with a typical lack of discretion and sensitivity in communications unfortunately so prevalent on the Internet. Not all episodes are directly related to the Internet - for example the phenomenon of sensitivity to electromagnetic waves is known, studied and treated in different ways (the one shown in the movie is just one option) but it is not directly linked to the global network but rather to radio communications . We meet on this occasion with one of those folks belonging to an anarchist community that tries to live in social islands unconnected to the global network. The interviewing techniques used by Werner Herzog mostly include asking from off (we never see his face face) questions with German calm and precision (underlined by his accent), but he obviously guided interlocutors and created the glue and thread of reasoning developed in the film.
Werner Herzog's interest in the Internet and technology is recent. Until a few years ago, Herzog could be considered a 'techno-skeptic' and its attitude toward certain Internet applications such as social media was clearly negative. Things have changed by the time he approached the project but the humanistic view of his questions are trenchant and come from unexpected directions, with a dose of caution and even pessimism about the interaction between human nature and technology These remain the traits that distinguish this film which is addressing in a different way than we are accustomed the Internet and mass communications.
Addressing the theme of 'Dreams' and showing the combination of Internet and artificial intelligence as one of the directions the most promising technology, but also of the most intriguing and perhaps even dangerous of the possible routes in the future, Herzog places himself in the vanguard technology.Will the Internet become (together with entities equipped with artificial intelligence) completely autonomous? And after this happens - the problem only when - what will be the difference between the perfect thinking machines and the imperfect individuals that make up mankind? The ability to dream? Love? Can robots dream or fall in love? What about the Internet?
an inter-stellar love story
Spacecraft undertaking long journeys between the stars have become one of the sets favorite movies and television series about the second half of the 60s, with the entry in production of serials like 'Star Trek' and some major big screen movies as '2001: a Space Oddissey' directed by Stanley Kubrick. Smaller and larger studios added to their sets to apartments in Manhattan, wild west villages and saloons or columns of the Roman forums, the corridors and cabins passenger space travel as scenery and props were used and reused. While these sets were diversified, specialized and differentiated by gender, some of them represented true artistic creations, an example being the series 'Alien' with sets drawn by Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolph (HR) Giger.
'Passengers' directed by Norwegian Morten Tyldum on a screenplay by Jon Spaihts is happening on such a spacecraft called Avalon. (The name comes from the Celtic mythology and Arthurian story exactly, is the name of the island where the legendary sword Excalibur was created). It is a huge shuttle carrying 5000 passengers toward the settlement Homestead II located far away from Earth. What is different from post-apocalyptic movies, we are warned from the beginning that this settlement is the result of a decision taken in an orderly manner and that everything is OK on Earth. In fact, it seems to be a peaceful period in human evolution, without internal conflicts and external threats. So there is room for romance. And in fact, this is what 'Passengers' is - a love story that happens in interstellar space.
The journey should last 120 years, and is performed at a cruising speed which is half the speed of light. That means that those who embark on this adventure forever leave their home world, friends and family. Even if taking a return voyage the day after arrival at Homestead II would find upon returning to Earth a humanity oldest 240 years plus time 'compressed' due to travel at speeds comparable to the speed of light (this Conformity theory of relativity) . Achieving such speeds is currently beyond the capabilities of the technology, although known theoretically at least two types of engines (photon propulsion and antimatter) that can be used in the future. Inside the spacecraft imagined by filmmakers combine utilitarianism technical (individual cryogenic cells, a bridge where access is allowed only to the authorized crew, an engine room similar to the engine room ocean liners) and shared space with different sections with comfort differentiated according to social classes . Kind of like a giant Titanic, with a better service and menu afforded only by passengers who have paid the tickets more expensive. That mankind may not have acute internal problems or external conflicts, but the differences between social classes they were not erased this future described by writer 'Passengers'. As a consolation, the bar is still free for all passengers and serviced by an android (played by Michael Sheen) who is a good conversationalist (sometimes a little too chatty) and a gentleman. The exterior of the spacecraft is equipped with a protective shield which should defend the ship, of any meteorological nuisance such as star storms or meteor populated areas. All is well until a problem occurs, and among its consequences, a passenger, a mechanical engineer from Colorado named Jim Preston (actor Chris Pratt is called) is awakened too early. Specifically after "only" 30 years, 90 years before arriving at their destination, which means in practice that he will never reach there.
The love story between the mechanical engineer played by Chriss Pratt and the New York journalist played the beautiful actress Jennifer Lawrence is the centerpiece of the story. It's a story about guilt, because the heroine was actually awakened intentionally by the hero after more than a year and loneliness, which triggers the romantic story but kills the possibility that she ever reaches their destination. I will not reveal more than that and I will not say the connection seemed to me not too convincing despite some scenes filmed very well, and that the last part of the story slips in spatial action drama with not too many original features.
I loved in this movie some of the cinematographic images. I saw the movie in 3D, but it should be quite spectacular in 2D as well. Splendid are the scenes inside where a couple of young heroes have at hand a whole (not sinking) Titanic where they are the only ones awake with other 4998 passengers plunged into a deep sleep. Sensational scenes are mostly the one outside the spaceship, where heroes - if we continue the parallel - observe from the deck liner the entire interstellar universe.
In conclusion - a more than reasonable science fiction film, a romantic story that takes place in special circumstances and surroundings which may not be that convincing at the end of the day as romance, but the moments of great beauty reward those who undertake the viewing experience.
a mirror of our world
Watching science fiction TV series is one of my guilty pleasures. The offer is very rich in numbers, quality offer is much sparser, but every few years there is a series that takes me prisoner, which I follow week after week, episode after episode, whose characters become familiar, they begin to captivate me and eventually absorb me in their universe or become part of my life. So were nearly three decades of space adventures of the new generation of My short list includes'Star Trek', 'V','X-Files', 'Lost'. Now comes 'Westworld'inspired by a 70s film by Michael Chrichton, produced by J.J. Abrams whose name hardly missing in the last decade of the credits any major productions of the science fiction genre on the small and big screen. The script is created (along with Lisa Joy) by Jonathan Nolan, who with his brother, director Chrostopher Nolan contributed to the conception of films as 'Memento', 'the Prestige' series 'the Dark Knight' and 'Interstellar'.
At first glance 'Westworld' proposes an idea similar to the one of 'Jurassic Park' - the action takes place in a huge amusement park 'theme' in which visitors are invited to live in the past the different sensations of everyday experiences of the Wild West. From the first minutes of the first series viewers will realize that 'Westworld' is maybe a theme park, but one in which consumers will not go along with families and children. It is recreated here in a landscape that recalls the films of Henry Ford's Wild West, populated by male robots who engage in dueling pistols that they will always lose in the fight with the park's customers and female robots that will satisfy every desire and sexual fantasy of the payers of tickets. Anthropomorphic robots (androids) are provided with all devices that emulate human physiology and the software that put into motion include the emotions of a man, with one limitation - their memory is scheduled to be deleted and permanently regenerated every morning the sun rises on a blue sky together with reinforced scenarios and biographies of each of the robots. Overnight maintenance crews restore the physiological damages of pistol duels or axes battles in which the robot Indians were killed in the last day or psychological trauma of sexual abuses that have undergone female robots. That, of course, until programs start functioning poorly, and perfect memories are not erased from one day to another.
Malfunctioning (or in technical terms bugs) of the programs which animate the androids is one of the favorite themes of science fiction sub-genre that deals with relations between robots and humans in the near future. But it is interesting to examine the prospect of dealing with these problems in programming. See for example the Swedish series "Real Humans'. As in the Scandinavians series, a programming mistake or a portion of code introduced intentionally in the history of the program and hid until at some point, give androids capabilities that were hitherto categorized among those traits that differentiate the robots people. They fall into two groups - imperfect erasure of memory that allow robots to recover - even fragmentary - past experiences or personal history to overcome threats; and emotional abilities that grant independence feelings beyond pre-programmed scenarios. In these circumstances are born the premises of the species conflict between androids and humans.
As the action progresses the world of 'Westworld' is becoming increasingly complex, the questions multiply, dilemmas become more acute. Some of the characters have become not only familiar, but begin to populate the universe until I become part of their world. The series benefits from the interpretation of some of the known world cinema actors. Anthony Hopkins is Dr. Robert Ford, the brain who conceived this world, the Creator who gives birth to new characters and manipulates the lives and destinies of androids that are already in action. Assistant is Bernard Lowe (played by Jeffrey Wright) who faces a personal drama and an identity crisis. Ed Harris is the Man in Black - evil character and one of 'consumers' of Westworld. Two female characters - Androids
Dolores (ingenue actress Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton - exceptional) - are both emotional and produce counterpoints - though very different - while engaging in a process of discovering their own identities. Feminist ideals take an extra dimension, it is about the conflict of authority and social relations of the 19th century women combined with subordination of robots to humans.
Not everything is clear in this action series. Many questions are asked, few are answered about about the evolution of the artificial intelligence technology, about the dangers improvement of improving robots to receive human emotions, about their identity and rights. I'm sure many surprises expect us in the next season(s), but one sure thing can already be said. 'Westworld' is a mirror of our world.
another encounter of the third kind
Almost every season of American cinema in this period brings about at least one big sci-fi production. While in recent years the themes dealt with space exploration within Earth orbit ( 'Gravity' in 2013 directed by Alfonso Cuaron Sandra Bullock and starring George Clooney ) or the planets of our solar system (Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' with Matt Damon last year), 'Arrival' this year returns (as 'Interstellar' by Christopher Nolan, also starring Matt Damon in the title role of 2014) to one of the themes of most popular in the classical literature and film of the genre and namely contact with extra terrestrial civilizations and possible visits and even invasion of our planet by representatives of civilizations more advanced than ours.
What can bring new another movie in a genre so popular and populated with significant creations, with branches in all genres from science fiction and apocalyptic visions to technological sparkling comedies and fairy tales that turn extra-terrestrial beings in friendly issues and the films in family-friendly productions? 'Arrival' managed to generate interest because it follows two of the basic rules of success in this sub-genre of science fiction. The first is that a film of 'first contact' must have the focus or pay significant space to humans and their real problems, must have heroes in flesh and blood, with whom viewers can identify. Dennis Villeneuve's film has as the main heroine Louise Banks, a beautiful woman but passed beyond the first youth who has just gone through the terrible trauma of losing a child to an incurable disease. The beginning of the film looks more like the beginning of a psychological drama about post-trauma recovery, and this is what this film is actually in some way. But of course, Louise Banks is a doctor in linguistics and because of this expertise is involved in trying to communicate with the passengers of the 12 spacecraft suddenly appeared in sight of earthlings. Intervenes here second compulsory element in the success of the genre which requires the contact between civilizations to combine in suitable doses the mystery and anguish human contact with the unknown and an explanation which has sufficient scientific logic (or humor or poetry, in other films ) to satisfy curiosity but also to stay with the audience after the film. Here lies the secret of the interest and success of the film.
From here starts but actually the most difficult part. For us, people (scientists or movie viewers), imagination is the only tool that we have at hand to imagine how the inhabitants of other planets physically look. Dreams and nightmares may take the forms, but the filmmakers have a duty to bring the extra-terrestrial on-screen, to shape dreams and imagination. Many movie genre filmmakers often failed, because when dreams becomes concrete substance, interest and expectations often melt into disappointment. You can not say that in 'Arrival' this issue is resolved, rather it is avoided or marginalized in style. Extra-terrestrial in Villeneuve's film are seven-legged creatures looking like octopuses, but to relieve the feeling of revulsion or physical danger there always is a screen between them and people. Viewers' attention is directed to the central theme of the film which is the possibility or impossibility of dialogue between civilizations that can be very different in their biological characteristics and stages of development and therefore use highly specific media each.
The main question the heroes in 'Arrival' are faced with is related to the intentions of the extra-terrestrials. To judge them in the image, likeness and intentions of humanity can be a fatal mistake. But ignorance can be fatal and potential hazards are present. Why did the extra-terrestrials come on our planet? What are their intentions? Cooperation or exploration, or conversely, the monopolization of resources (which ones?) on our planet and maybe annihilation? How can be established communication with them, how can their messages be translated when the bases are unknown language they use and even fundamental pillars of their way of thinking are different? I will not give too much detail because I do not want to take away from the joy of watching a film that I recommend to everyone. Of course, the lead heroine plays a key role in the solution of the problem and the answer will come in the end and is related to her biography and traumas that had she went through.
The film is based on a story by writer Ted Chiang, winner of the Nebula Award, one of the most important distinctions of genre, in 2000. The text addresses many aspects of the theory of language, perception of time and determinism underlying human communication, and develops a principle known in linguistics and epistemology as the 'Sapir-Whorf hypothesis' or 'relativity language', after which language determines or at least influences the way of thinking, knowledge, and the decision-making of those who use it. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Dennis Villeneuve found screen equivalents to some of the ideas of the story and added further elements, some more successful (i.e. the very credible 'international' response the arrival of extra-terrestrials) other less to my taste (resolving at the last moment the inter-civilization the crisis that is on the brink of armed conflict seemed too 'Hollywood-ish'). The film's graphics solutions for the relations between civilizations at first contact are well suited and exceptionally aesthetic. There are too many details in this film about extra-terrestrial technology, and about the secrets that they want to transmit to mankind, and all these make this movie worth seeing.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
parenthood pains for Jack Reacher
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the kind of movie which I would probably have never seen unless I was on a trans-Atlantic flight, too tired to read but still sleepless, and prisoner of the Lufthansa movie list. I mildly admire Tom Cruise (mainly for past achievements, past meaning from another millennium) and I have no special rejection of action movies provided they make sense and offer something more than gun or fist fights and car races. So I went for this film, the result could have been worse, but also much better.
Director Edward Zwick took a few ambitious themes in the past, with mixed results. Glory may have been his ... moment of glory, but then followed The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, and Defiance - all very ambitious projects but only partial successes. Here his ambitions are much lower, as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the second in a series which tends to be quite repetitive - wild action with corrupt military portrait-ed as the bad guys and one (or even more) ladies in distress to help. An extra element is added here - Reacher may or may not be the father of one of the ladies to be saved and spared any pain at any cost. Not a very original story, to be candid.
What are we left with? A well made violent action movie and a moralistic story that seems even less credible than the amount of fist-beaten bad guys that are badly damaged during the screening time. The talent (and the price paid to enroll it) of Tom Cruise are not well spent here.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
passion vs. talent
I cannot help it. Every film she shines in (because this is what stars do they shine) ends by being about her. The great actress who is and lives on screen as every character she is incarnating, who makes this character an unforgettable person which you may love or hate, worship, despise or pity, but always remember. Of course, I am speaking about Meryl Streep.
What a luck for us, movie viewers, to be her contemporaries! Florence Foster Jenkins was a real person, involved in the social and musical life of the first half of the 20th century in New York. She had a real passion for music, and enough money to pay for this passion, including helping and promoting musicians and musical events. Her only little sin was that she had the ambition to sing and her talent did not match her ambition. She had passion though, and was protected by a loving (and apparently platonic) husband who was hiding from her the bitter truth about her skills. The film is about the balance between passion and talent, and is also about the very special forms real love sometimes takes.
This combination of biopics and melodrama worked incredibly well for me. This was of course because of the tremendous talent and amazing performance of Meryl Streep, but not only. I also found Simon Helberg to be charming and funny in the role of the pianist who is hired to play with the strident diva. Hugh Grant is aging well and fits wonderfully in the role of the husband, and all the show is directed with British elegance by Stephen Frears. This is a film to watch, one of the better ones of the Academy Awards season. Watch it. You may learn that the ways of Art and the ways of Love are sometimes as mysterious as the ways of God.
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
The Magnificent Seven - International Edition
The Japanese master Akira Kurosawa is credited for the original script (and remarkable movie) Seven Samurai made in 1954. Six years later an American remake named The Magnificent Seven provided one of the exception of that rule too often true which says that Hollywood remakes are much worse pictures than the non-American original movies they are based upon. John Sturges' film was actually very good (in my opinion) because of the presence of great action movies stars like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and because it translated well the code of honor of the samurais in the rules of ethics that made eventually the lawless Wild West into a cradle of an efficient and lawful society. So the question may be asked - why do another Hollywood remake in 2016. One answer is of course - because more than half a century passed and the Western evolved. The problem is that in processing the script for the 21st century the writers and producers felt the need to add a dimension that was practically absent from the previous 7s - multiculturalism. And so, in two hops, we get from the mono-cultural Japanese saga with samurais to an internationalized (and PC - suspect) story that may fit some of the 21st century taste, but seems less credible in a 19th century setting.
The team of mercenaries assembled by law man Denzel Washington to protect the citizens of the city threatened to be taken over by an avid landlord and his army includes almost all the races and nations that populate the America of that time in an 'international' team that will work, fight and (some) die flawlessly. Nice idea, but lacking credibility. Worse - all with the exception of Washington's character lack consistency, they are more the stereotype that they are supposed to represent than real characters we get to care about, even when they are hurt or die.
Otherwise, it's a good action movie, respecting the basic rules of the action Western films. One cannot expect Denzel Washington to provide anything but a fine performance. He worked with director Antoine Fuqua in The Equalizer and was lucky for a more consistent and complex role there. Haley Bennett was also present in The Equalizer, here, in The Magnificent Seven she seems to be a little too young and a little too pretty for the role of the beautiful widow who gathers the team of mercenaries. Fine actors as Chris Pratt or Ethan Hawke get too little substance in their roles to be remembered. The action scenes are reasonably well made, but there is nothing special to remember the day after the screening.
The 'Wild' West at the end of the 19th century was many things, but what it was not was a multi-cultural and tolerant society. One can describe it as such, but this smells of historical revisionism or political correctness. The West may have been populated by different nationalities, but they were far from equal and far from living and acting in harmony - this is the historical truth. Taking into account that today's American society is as well far from having overcome all its traumas related to its attitude towards race and minorities, maybe such an alternate view can be regarded as an act of balancing. All good, but this does not automatically translate into good cinema.
something fresh from Denmark
Unless I forgot something badly (and in this case it was probably not something good enough to remember) this may be my first TV series from Denmark that I see in the last 20 years or so, and the second after Lars von Trier's The Kingdom which amazed me in the mid 1990s. It certainly is not a masterpiece as I consider to be von Trier's series (and most of his movies) but a very decent detective story and good entertainment.
Aarhus is a place whose name I know about since I was a kid, and so does any kid or former kid who was a passionate of geographical atlases and was looking in the index and dreaming to travel to all those places. It was the first or one of the first in any index, a city too small to ignore on the map of a country it took me about 40 years to get to for the first time. Aarhus is also the place where the first season of Dicte - Crime Reporter happens, with the Big City (Copenhagen) reporter Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle) moving to the local edition of a newspaper together with her teenage daughter, running a failed marriage. Actually almost everybody in this film runs away bad marriages, with the exception of the ones who are single (that includes also the very young ones) - I am wondering if anybody is happily married in Denmark. Dicte is joined by her two good friends who have each her own marital or relationship problems, but the skeleton in her closet (very soon taken out) is much darker, as her past includes a teenage pregnancy and having lost her child sent to adoption. All murder cases that start to appear (it is a detective series, after all, and a good one) are also to some extent related to kids, adoptions, and her own past. Of course, detective Wagner (Lars Brygmann) who is her police counterpart is ... divorced.
There is a lot of fuzz about Scandinavian crime novels, films and TV series, about the foggy or snowy landscape. Dicte - Crime Reporter is a little different, maybe it's the fact that Denmark is at the Southern extremity of Scandinavia that makes this film look a little more sunny and better lit than other Scandinavian series. However, what is missing in landscape is better articulated in the characters. Good acting helps, with Iben Hjejle, Lars Brygmann, Lærke Winther Andersen, Lene Maria Christensen - all giving good performances and the unknown faces (at least for viewers not familiar with Danish TV and cinema) helps making the characters more credible. The important thing I believe is that eventually we get to know them and care about them - this makes for the good quality of this refreshing crime series. I am looking forward for the next two seasons, and I hope that the Israeli cable channel acquired them as well.