Starpower plus a new spin make ‘Magnificent Seven’ a worthy entry

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The Magnificent Seven — In Rose Creek, some years after the Civil war, poor farmers hire a gunslinging warrant officer to defend them against the mining kingpin who’s trying to run them off.

The gunslinger scrapes together six comrades, and they try to prepare the town for the attack of the mining man’s goons.

This variation—it’s only a remake in its broadest outlines—of the 1960 guy-movie classic from John Sturges (itself a reworking of Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai) has an entirely ersatz atmosphere.

It feels like something staged daily for tourists at Old Tucson Studios, except that, like Lawrence Kasdan’s 1984 Silverado, it’s full of big-name actors.

Scene after scene (almost every scene, really) recalls some earlier western. A surprising number, starting from the opening town meeting in the church, bring to mind Blazing Saddles—there’s even a “beans scene,” though it lacks audible flatulence. There are nods to Kurosawa, too, notably a major borrow from Throne of Blood.

None of which is to say that this Magnificent Seven isn’t entertaining from beginning to end.

Director Antoine Fuqua evokes the tidy, almost abstracted flavor of the genre at its most allegorically suggestive, and he gets terrific performances from his stars.

Denzel Washington plays the gunslinger, roughly the equivalent of the Yul Brynner role in the earlier film.

Chris Pratt is the wisecracking cardsharp, Ethan Hawke is a desiccated, war-shattered Southern gentleman, Byung-hun Lee is his knife-slinging traveling companion. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays a Mexican fugitive, Vincent D’Onofrio is a shaggy tracker, and Martin Sensmeier rounds out the Seven as an outcast Comanche.

Washington is poised and commanding, an authoritative axis around which the other six revolve. It would be easy to miss how quietly skilled he is, because his costars are so flashy—Pratt a likable wiseacre, Hawke shaky and soul-wounded, Garcia-Rulfo bright-eyed and vulpine, Peter Sarsgaard a study in twitchy mannerism as the creepy miner boss.

Lee and Sensmeier are less developed, but both of them are physically impressive.

The only truly original characterization, however, is D’Onofrio, his voice croaky from disuse, his manner oddly guileless.

If I had a quibble with the movie—on its own corny terms—it’s that I was disappointed that Washington’s character had an old score to settle with the villain.

Part of what was touching about the 1960 version is that Brynner and his cronies came to care about the locals, without the need for any backstory.

 

Storks — Last weekend we had Bridget Jones belatedly expecting a baby; this weekend we have a saga of the avians traditionally in charge of delivering it. Like Arthur Christmas a few years back, this is another animated film that derives its comedy from literalizing a folklore motif—probably, in this case, a cover story to avoid telling kids where babies come from.

The birds have a history in Warner Brothers animation. In the Looney Tunes of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the stork (voiced by Mel Blanc) was a depicted as a bleary-eyed, hiccupping drunk, presumably having been unable to decline offers of cheer from delighted new parents, and the result was mis-delivered babies.

In the new film, from Warner Animation Group, the birds have shifted their delivery operations away from babies to consumer items, a la Amazon.com.

The movie follows the quest of an up-and-coming stork, Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) and Tulip (Katie Crowne), a human who grew up among the storks when she went undelivered to her family, to deliver a baby unintentionally produced at the request of a boy who wants a little brother.

It’s a surreptitious delivery, as Junior knows that word of the screw-up would endanger the promotion he’s been promised by the corporate honcho stork (Kelsey Grammer).

Even though the story obeys, through Tulip, the standard animated kidflick trope of the misfit struggling to fit in, the adventures which ensue are quite off-the-wall and hard to summarize.

Probably the funniest element of the film is the wolf pack—the Alpha and Beta are hilariously voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele—able to organize itself into bridges and boats even more ambitious structures. As she flees, Tulip notes that she never saw this behavior in the nature shows.

Storks is so stuffed with peculiar ideas that some of them inevitably misfire.

There’s a sense of equating babies with consumer products and procreation with acquisition that feels a little unsavory, even though it’s probably unintentional.

But overall this is one of the more unpredictable and funnier animated features in a while.

There’s a Lego short subject before the movie, by the way, a martial arts spoof called The Master in which the title character (voiced by Jackie Chan) clashes with a chicken. It’s good for a chuckle.

The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13, and Storks is rated PG.

Both play at Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion 20, Arizona Mills and other multiplexes Valleywide.

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