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The Magnificent Seven (2016) - DVD Review

The Magnificent Seven

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

GIVEN the iconic status that surrounds John Sturges’s original Magnificent Seven it seemed like a folly to be remaking such a classic. But Antoine Fuqua, reuniting with Denzel Washington for a third time, has done a much better job than expected in bringing these gunslingers back to the screen.

By no means a classic, the remake is nevertheless an entertaining romp; one that is more content to pay homage to the Westerns that inspired it rather than bringing anything new to the genre.

So while the missed opportunities do tend to stack up and there are some intriguing and/or curious creative decisions at various points, this plays well enough to fans of the genre and perhaps even more so to anyone who has yet to see the 1960 film from which it is derived (and which was, in itself, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

The new-look cast acquit themselves well, and sometimes very well in the case of its principals: Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. The action is slickly directed and even reminiscent of another classic Western practitioner, Sam Peckinpah, while there is enough of an emotional investment to make you care about the fate of the seven, unlike some more recent blockbusters which continually defy the ‘suicide’ or ‘expendable’ nature of their premise.

The story remains largely the same, albeit tweaked to represent more contemporary villains. When a ruthless tyrant named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) places a farming community at risk, a widow (Haley Bennett) approaches Washington’s no-nonsense lawman Sam Chisolm to help rid her town of Bogue and his murdering henchmen.

Chisolm subsequently rounds up his magnificent seven, who are comprised of Chris Pratt’s card shark Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke’s lethal marksman Goodnight Robicheaux and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vincent D’Onofrio’s former Indian hunter Jack Horne , Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican bandit Vasquez and Martin Sensmeier’s renegade Native American Red Harvest.

Of the criticisms surrounding the film, the multi-cultural make-up of this new seven is primary among them, given that there is little attention paid to any possible tensions between them. Rather, they are only hinted at. And while it’s nice to have a woman leading the villagers in their revolt against tyranny, Fuqua’s camera does tend to linger a little too long on Bennett’s unbuttoned top, while her portrayal – for all of its feistiness – does also flit between empowered and woman in need of rescue.

Fuqua’s decision to tip his hat to classic Westerns of the past also proves fun but frustrating. It’s fun in the sense that you can reward yourself for spotting the references (Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter are given visual nods, while the raw style of Sergio Leone also looms large at several points). But while many of those Westerns had something to say about the genre, or the times in which they were made, Fuqua’s film is less complex, unless you take Hawke’s insistence that Bogue represents Donald Trump at his word.

Indeed, Sarsgaard’s villain is another problem. Imposing at first, he disappears for long periods and returns seemingly high and disinterested, lacking either the charisma or complexity of Eli Wallach’s Mexican bandit in the original.

And talking of the 1960 film, Fuqua does revisit that film directly on several occasions, whether quoting back lines verbatim, copying the odd scene (James Coburn’s knife versus gun fight is revisited) or toying with Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score, before dropping it properly over the end credits. It’s a curious decision that proves diverting at times.

For all of its obvious faults, however, The Magnificent Seven does entertain. Washington’s Chisolm remains the epitome of cool and even comes with a mysticism surrounding him that’s more reminiscent of classic Eastwood anti-heroism, while Pratt’s cheeky wit, coupled with a dark heart, make for an interesting variation on the Steve McQueen role he is inhabiting.

Hawke’s Robicheaux is another interesting character, and it’s nice to see him and Washington sharing the odd scene for the first time since Training Day, while both Byung-hun Lee and D’Onofrio have a certain amount of fun with their characters despite limited opportunity.

The climactic gunfight – a curious mix of Saving Private Ryan‘s last stand, as directed in the style of Peckinpah – is also well choreographed and suitably unpredictable (you won’t necessarily guess who survives), while Mauro Fiore’s cinematography demands a big screen.

There’s a lot to admire in Fuqua’s film, which emerges as a genuine guilty pleasure. In a summer filled with remakes, reboots, sequels and superheroes that have more often than not disappointed, Fuqua has delivered a classic style of filmmaking that crowd-pleases without blowing you completely away.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 131mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: January 23, 2017

The Infiltrator (Bryan Cranston) - DVD Review

The Infiltrator

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BRYAN Cranston fakes bad to make good in The Infiltrator, a superior crime drama based on the true story of the federal agent who successfully infiltrated Pablo Escobar’s drugs cartel at the height of its power.

The Breaking Bad luminary may be on the right side of the law on this occasion but there are times when his character, customs agent Robert Mazur, must tap into his darker side in order to maintain his cover. And it’s during these moments that the spirit of Walter White is alive and well.

Elsewhere, however, Cranston’s hero gets put through the emotional wringer as new alliances with cartel bigwigs bring about dangers to both himself and his family, as well as ‘friendships’ that inevitably involve acts of betrayal.

But it’s in its depiction of this dubious morality and its psychological effect that Brad Furman’s film really excels, heightening the tension of an already incredible situation, while keeping things human. And just as there are moments when Mazur looks like he could be tempted by the power his cover brings him, so too are there moments that show the everyman qualities of the people he’s attempting to put away: none more so than with Benjamin’s Bratt’s power player Roberto Alcaino.

Hence, while The Infiltrator could be accused of following a tried and tested path, there remains a freshness here that keeps things utterly compelling. And the performances, all round, feel real.

Cranston is typically superb but also of note are the likes of John Leguizamo, as his street-wise partner; Joseph Gilgun, as an unlikely ally; Amy Ryan, as his tough-talking boss; Juliet Aubrey, as his quietly suffering wife, and Diane Kruger, as his fake fiancée and partner.

Furman, meanwhile, also maintains a nice balance between the human drama and the action, which arrives swiftly but is brutally executed. As a result, the ruthlessness of the cartels is never beyond question, while an uncertainty over when (or if) they will strike looms large over proceedings.

Overall, The Infiltrator is a smartly constructed, emotionally involving, character-driven drama that lifts the lid on a fascinating chapter on America’s war against drugs. It’s essential viewing and an ideal companion piece for anyone currently addicted to Netflix TV series Narcos.

Read our exclusive interview with Juliet Aubrey

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 7mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: January 23, 2017

The Girl With All The Gifts - DVD Review

The Girl With All The Gifts

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IF THE zombie genre is another, like the superhero one, that seems overdone at the moment then The Girl With All The Gifts does at least attempt to freshen things up at times.

Disturbing, horrific yet also intelligent, Colm McCarthy’s film – adapted from his own novel by Mike Carey – frequently finds new and interesting things to say about humanity and survival instinct. But it can’t maintain the high standards set during its opening two thirds, eventually succumbing to one too many genre troupes and a surprisingly unconvincing climax.

The film is at its most potent during the opening scenes, as a young girl, Melanie (12-year-old newcomer Sennia Nanua), is imprisoned and shackled by heavily armed soldiers, who then lead her to a classroom full of similarly restrained children for lessons about science and stories of Greek mythology.

Their teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), is a kind figure, who Melanie has clearly taken a shine to. But she is an all too rare breed. The other main people in Melanie’s life are a sometimes brutal soldier, Paddy Considine’s Sgt Eddie Parks, and a cold-hearted scientist, Glenn Close’s Dr Caroline Caldwell, who wants to experiment on her in order to find a cure to the fungal infection that has turned most of the Earth into flesh-craving ‘hungries’.

When their compound becomes overrun, this tiny group is forced to go on the run, along with two more soldiers, in a bid to find a new safe haven. But as Melanie starts to understand her own power, the dynamic between the group begins to change, particularly once it becomes clear that she could hold the fate to everyone’s survival.

Armed with such a strong cast, it’s little wonder that The Girl With All The Gifts is at its best when allowing them to play to their strengths. Hence, debates about what it is to be human and the threats posed by nature and evolution are given added weight by the quality of the performances from the likes of Close and Arterton. Nanua, too, displays a maturity beyond her years to channel both child-like wonder and innocence mixed with something altogether more dangerous.

The use of striking imagery, particularly in its depiction of children, also makes for uneasy viewing – not just because of what they are being subjected to, or being asked to perform, but also because it is children in the roles. And while horror has a long history of using children in unsettling ways, it does beg questions beyond the film’s parameters about what we’re asking young actors to do.

It’s perhaps for that reason that some of the later scenes, in which Melanie finds her feet, struggle to convince, particularly when veering into a Lord of the Flies-style subplot involving other child hungries.

While some of the more familiar genre conventions, such as the ability for adults to act stupidly in the face of high danger, fly in the face of the intelligence that has come before it. It’s as though McCarthy is a little too mindful of certain genre requirements such as the need for graphic zombie kills.

Had the film maintained the courage of its convictions, The Girl With All The Gifts would have really stood out from the masses, much like the original George Romero films or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Instead, it promises more than it ultimately delivers.

It’s a solid genre entry that grips throughout. But it just falls short of the classic status that – at certain early points – had seemed so within reach.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 51mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: January 23, 2017

Win Blood Rage on Dual Format

Blood Rage

Preview by Jack Foley

To celebrate the release of Blood Rage – out on Dual Format on January 23, 2017 – we are giving away a copy courtesy of Arrow Video!

What do you get if you combine Thanksgiving, American TV star Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), killer ’80s synths and some truly gruesome special effects courtesy of Ed French (Terminator 2: Judgement Day)? Why, it’s Blood Rage of course!

Twins Todd and Terry seem like sweet boys – that is, until one of them takes an axe to the face of a fellow patron at the local drive-in. Todd is blamed for the bloody crime and institutionalised, whilst twin brother Terry goes free. Ten years later and, as the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, the news comes in that Todd has escaped. But has the real killer in fact been in their midst all along?

Shot in 1983 but not released until 1987, Blood Rage is a gloriously gruesome slice of ’80s slasher heaven – now restored from the original negative for its world Blu-ray debut.

Win Blood Rage on Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD

To celebrate the release of Blood Rage on Dual Format from January 23, 2017, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy. Simply answer the following question…

Q. In which year was Blood Rage originally released?

Simply send the answer to Blood Rage competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Win Army of One on Blu-ray

Army of One

Preview by Jack Foley

To celebrate the release of Army of One – available on Digital Download from January 23, 2017 and on DVD and Blu-ray from February 6, 2017 – we are giving away a copy on Blu-ray and an iTunes download code courtesy of Arrow Films!

Hollywood legend Nicolas Cage is at his gonzo, goofball best as an American man on a mission to single-handedly mount a war on terror in ARMY OF ONE.

Directed by comedy genius Larry Charles (Borat, Bruno, The Dictator, Curb Your Enthusiasm), it’s made all the more berserk and bizarre by the fact that it is a true story!

As the feckless, reckless bearded Faulkner – a real life character whose ill-equipped warlord hunting antics astounded the world – Cage is mesmerizingly hilarious. Gleefully unhinged, sporting combat gear and wraparound shades, he plays beautifully off stand-up superstar Russell Brand (as God) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids), as the high school crush who helps him prepare for his ill-advised solo mission.

When the fearless Faulkner gets to Pakistan, things get seriously silly and reach a fever pitch of funny not seen since Borat went round America.

Order today

Win Army of One on Blu-ray and an iTunes download code

To celebrate the release of Army of One on DVD and Blu-ray from February 6, 2017, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy on Blu-ray and an iTunes download code. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who directs Nicolas Cage in Army of One?

Simply send the answer to Army of One competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

WWE: Survivor Series 2016 - Preview

Survivor Series 2016

Preview by Jack Foley

To celebrate the release of WWE: Survivor Series 2016 on DVD and Blu-ray we are giving away a copy on Blu-ray!

After 12 years in exile from sports entertainment, Goldberg brings devastation back to the WWE ring for the long-awaited rematch against “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar.

On the 30th anniversary of Survivor Series, fantasy warfare just got real! And for the first time since The Brand Extension, Superstars from both RAW and SmackDown Live go head-to-head in traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series elimination matches – the ultimate battle for brand supremacy!

As one of WWE’s “big four” pay-per-views, Survivor Series is always a landmark event – but with “The Beast” Brock Lesnar and Goldberg facing off, this one will go down as one of the biggest moments in sports-entertainment history!

Survivor Series 2016 is available to by on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, January 23, 2017.

Order today

Win WWE: Survivor Series 2016 on Blu-ray

To celebrate the release of WWE: Survivor Series 2016 on DVD and Blu-ray from January 23, 2017, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy on Blu-ray. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who is Brock Lesnar better known as in WWE: Survivor Series 2016?

Simply send the answer to WWE: Survivor Series 2016 competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Blair Witch - DVD Preview

Blair Witch

Preview by Jack Foley

VISIONAR director Adam Wingard unleashed one of the cinematic surprises of 2016 when his next opus, The Woods turned out to be an utterly terrifying return to the world of the Blair Witch, coming to digital platforms on January 16, 2017, and on Blu-ray, DVD and alongside a double pack with The Blair Witch Project on January 23, 2017 courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film follows a group of college students who venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of James’ sister, which many people believe is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch.

At first the group is hopeful, especially when a young local couple offer to act as guides through the dark and winding woods.

However, as the endless night wears on, the group is visited by a menacing presence. Slowly, they begin to realize the legend of the Blair Witch is all too real and more sinister than they could have imagined.

Expanding on the mythology created in the iconic The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch is at once an exercise in slow-burning tension and a heart-pounding study in terror that further proves Wingard, responsible for the near-perfect slasher pic You’re Next and the joyous tribute to John Carpenter that was The Guest, really is modern horror cinema’s saviour.

Kubo & The Two Strings - DVD Review

Kubo & The Two Strings

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Having already impressed with Coraline and The Boxtrolls, animation company Laika now return with arguably their most impressive achievement yet with Kubo & The Two Strings.

Channelling both the beauty and intelligence of both Pixar and Studio Ghibli, Travis Knight’s film is an emotionally rich stop-motion action adventure that captures both the heart and mind.

The story focuses on a young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), whose peaceful existence comes crashing down when he accidentally summons a vengeful spirit from the past.

Forced on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to unlock a secret legacy.

Armed with a magical instrument, Kubo must battle The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and other gods and monsters to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

At the start of the film, Kubo addresses audiences and tells them to pay attention. It’s advice worth heeding as this is a far more complex tale than most family films.

Not only is it steeped in ancient Japanese history and custom, but there are many twists and turns that you just won’t see coming. There’s a darkness, too, that is sustained throughout as well as an underlying sense of tragedy befitting Shakespeare.

And yet there’s a sense of optimism too that’s evident during the emotional climax, as well as a sense of humour throughout that gives rise to several laughs. The interplay between Kubo, Monkey and Beetle can be particularly witty.

As spectacular as the visuals and set pieces are, too, it’s the characters that also stay with you given how richly drawn they are. Kubo is a particularly affecting young hero (plucky in spite of the loss he endures), while Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey both excel as Monkey and Beetle – the latter, especially, investing his character with a great deal of dim-witted charm.

Kubo won’t be to every taste, especially those who require more straight-forward, self-evident and fast moving slices of family escapism. But for those willing to take its journey, Kubo offers a treasure trove of riches. It is something of a masterpiece: as inspired as it moving and – ultimately – life-affirming.

Certificate: PG Running time: 1hr 40mins UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: January 16, 2017

Win Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy on Blu-ray

Black Society Trilogy

Preview by Jack Foley

To celebrate the release of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy – out of DVD & Blu-Ray from January 16, 2017 – we are giving away a Blu-ray copy courtesy of Arrow Video!

After several years spent working almost exclusively in the direct-to-video world of “V-cinema” in Japan, Takashi Miike announced himself as a world-class filmmaking talent with this trio of thematically-connected, character-centric crime stories about violence, the underworld of Japanese society, families both real and surrogate, and the possibly hopeless task of finding one’s place in the world.

His first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio, the Black Society Trilogy was the beginning of Miike’s mature career as a filmmaker and they remain among the prolific director’s finest works.

Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, Shinjuku Triad Society follows a mixed-race cop (Kippei Shiina, Outrage) struggling with private issues while hunting a psychotic criminal (Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuo the Iron Man) who traffics in children’s organs.

Rainy Dog, shot entirely in Taiwan, is about an exiled yakuza (Dead or Alive‘s Show Aikawa) who finds himself saddled with a son he never knew he had and a price on his head after the Chinese gang he works for decides to turn on him.

Ley Lines moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent (including The Raid 2‘s Kazuki Kitamura) seek their fortune in Tokyo, only to run afoul of a violent gang boss (Naoto Takenaka, The Happiness of the Katakuris).

Three of the most dramatically moving films created by the director, the Black Society Trilogy offers clear proof that Miike’s frequent pigeonholing as a specialist in bloody spectacle is only one aspect of his filmmaking career, and taken as a whole, the films are among the finest works ever to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.

Order today

Win Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy on Blu-ray

To celebrate the release Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD from January 16, 2017, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy on Blu-ray. Simply answer the following question…

Q. In which country was Rainy Dog shot?

Simply send the answer to Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Win Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia on Blu-ray

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

Preview by Jack Foley

To celebrate the release of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia – out on January 23, 2017, on Blu-ray – we are giving away a copy courtesy of Arrow Video!

Sam Peckinpah’s most personal movie, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is often regarded as his last great masterpiece, concluding the period in which he also made The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a beautiful and heart-breaking film with astonishing performances from its two leads, Warren Oates and Isela Vega.

Their love story plays out against Peckinpah’s trademark violence as they embark on a manhunt in order to make their fortune. Their commitment to their roles never wavers and they bring their characters to life extraordinarily, giving us a glimpse of the underbelly of humanity.

This gripping film is released with a brand new 4K restoration created exclusively for this limited edition Blu-ray, which also includes a bonus disc packed with never-seen-before interviews from many of Peckinpah’s contemporaries and colleagues, giving cinephiles something to really pour over!

Order today

Win Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia on Blu-ray

To celebrate the release of the new 4k restoration of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia on Blu-ray from January 23, 2017, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy on Blu-ray. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who directs Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia?

Simply send the answer to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email