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I have every intention to watch the classic, 1954, Japanese film "Seven Samurai" by Akira Kurosawa, and since I've been riding so high in the saddle with American Westerns recently, I decided to watch the classic, 1960 remake first: "The Magnificent Seven," pretty-much knowing that Seven Samurai will be better, and possibly a lot better. Now, that I've watched it, I hope "Seven Samurai" is a *lot* better, because "The Magnificent Seven" was merely a good - not great - American Western, even though you'll hear otherwise from plenty of critics. Perhaps I think so because I've watched *so* many great American Westerns lately, or perhaps movie critics are like so many restaurant critics - going for big celebrities, lots of PR, tons of hype, free meals, and God knows what else. Of the so-called "great" American Westerns I've seen, only "Shane" has disappointed me more. Don't get me wrong: "The Magnificent Seven" isn't a bad movie; it's just not a great movie ... it falls somewhere in-between. It was worth watching for me only because I'm recently fixated on the genre, and also as a preparatory exercise for "Seven Samarai." Only two of the seven (plus the villain) get billing before the movie title: Yul Brynner (Chris Adams), Eli Wallach (the bandit Calvera), and Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner). The other four, Charles Bronson (Bernardo O'Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee, the war veteran), Brad Dexter (the mercenary), James Coburn (the knife fighter), and Horst Buchholtz (the kid, Chico), each had their own screen, but were presented after the title. The movie was filmed entirely in Mexico, which helped; I only wish the Mexican actors were either better-trained, or didn't use English as a second language, because it really showed up - granted, this is how it would be in real life, but in contrast with the suave, dramatically and well-versed Americans, the difference in acting - particularly the diction - was rather dramatic. Wow, my first impression is that Calvera is a lot like Negan on "The Walking Dead." *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** The most beautiful scene in the movie was Harry Luck's (Brad Dexter's) dying scene, in Chris Adams' (Yul Brynner's) arms. Each of "The Magnificent Seven" took this low-paying ($20 for six weeks) job for different reasons. Luck's primary reason was that he had always thought that there was something more in it for him than just a measly $20. He said to Chris, "I'd hate to die a sucker. We didn't come here just to keep an eye on a lotta corn and chili peppers, did we? ...." Chris answered, knowing Chris had mere moments to live, "Yes, Harry. You had it pegged right all along," and then told him there was a half-million dollars in buried gold, from which his share would be about $70,000 - it was all a lie to make Harry die with a smile on his face, which he did. Here are the following two stills, less than one-second apart from each other: Make note: Despite Harry Luck being a mercenary, he was a good person, and the "little white lie" told by Chris was entirely appropriate, and absolutely compelling. Harry's last words, delivered during the first photo, were, "I'll be damned." Chris's words, delivered immediately after Harry died, were, "Maybe you won't be." If only the rest of the film could have been this profound, it would have been a great movie. "The Turbulent Three": Nobody in the Seven was more dimwitted, or more wise, than Chico (Horst Buchholtz). As dumb as dirt, he was the only of the seven who walked away with First Prize. For all its hype, and for all its stars, "The Magnificent Seven" was simply not a great film; it was a good film, but it lacked coherence, and dare I say logic? Now I'm *really* hoping that "Seven Samurai" simply didn't transfer well to the Western genre - with the stars and the budget this film had, it should have been absolutely fantastic; it wasn't. It's a good movie, and worth seeing, and that's as far as I'm willing to go - what I'm really hoping is that it will deepen my appreciation for "Seven Samurai," but now I"m wondering whether or not I should see "A Bug's Life" first as well. I hate to come right out and say, "All the critics are wrong," because Rotten Tomatoes uses either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down model, and I have no problem giving this a "thumbs up," but once you get into more nuance than a simple, binary, "yes-or-no," once again, I find myself agreeing with Dave Kehr more than any other active critic: And I know I lack the specific experience to come right out and say that all the professional movie critics are wrong, but ... all the professional movie critics are wrong.
I remember watching "The Mechanic" (1972) with my dad when I was a child. I'm in yet another "Jack Reacher" mood, but don't want to completely waste my time - I remembered enjoying this as a child, and it's in a similar genre (sort of), so why not relive my childhood, and watch something with some historical merit? Besides, it features bad-ass Charles Bronson as an assassin - what more could you want in a mindless action film? Note also that producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler would go on to produce "Raging Bull" eight years later. What a difference a superstar director (Martin Scorsese) makes! "The Mechanic" is noteworthy in that it has *no* dialogue of any kind for the first sixteen minutes (I knew this going into the film). This was particularly interesting to me because at around the two-minute point, a single, dissonant, ominous-sounding, organ chord starts to build up, Bolero-style, and you wonder how it could possibly go on for another 13 minutes - mercifully, there's a lull in the tension, and it dies down. One thing this sixteen minutes of no dialogue does is allow for a leisurely presentation of the opening credits, which you don't mind, because there is action taking place on the screen. The first shot of Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) in his own environment shows that he is a man of taste - while alone in his thoughtfully furnished abode, he turns on a beautiful, overture-like piece on a cassette recorder - probably a slow movement from a symphony - highlighted by angelic-sounding violins, and (this is the advantage of having a food and wine critic do your film reviews, because I suspect I'm the first person in history to mention this) is drinking a bottle of Cheval Blanc, and given the age of the film, and Cheval Blanc's vintage track-record in the 60s, my guess would be that it's a '64 - he didn't decant it, so it couldn't be too old - but he needs a better claret glass than he has. This type of juxtaposition with the gritty and the urbane is exactly why "Road House" is a guilty pleasure of mine, and why I occasionally enjoy films like The Mechanic. How's this for a blast-from-the-past and product placement? The Mechanic is an interesting take on the classic tale of The Great Master taking on an apprentice, with some natural talent, under his wing. Early in the movie, you may recognize Keenan Wynn, who starred in "The Man in the Funny Suit" (he was the son of Ed Wynn), and thus, once again, so many things trace back to Rod Serling. Keenan Wynn played Harry McKenna, whose son, Steve McKenna, was played by the rising (and since hard-fallen) star Jan-Michael Vincent, who is The Mechanic's apprentice. This is sort of like an amoral version of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." *** SPOILER ALERT *** Given that they only touched on Bishop's character development (albeit clearly showing he's depressed, anxious, and lonely), I'm not convinced that a man of his skill-set - which is nearly superhuman - would so willingly take on an apprentice without testing him "to the max" first - and by "to the max," I mean, having him kill someone and putting his (McKenna's) entire life in Bishop's hands - Bishop never tested him like that, and it's simply not plausible that he would have taken McKenna on so willingly without having done so first, not when he's playing at this level. (I should add that I'm only an hour into the film, and have forty minutes left, so he may have something else up his sleeve, but Bishop essentially showed his hand to a virtual unknown, without asking anything in return first). Someone *this* good, with this much invested into his lifestyle (and I mean, Bishop was the *ultimate* assassin), would never take that risk without having something heavy and lethal to hang over McKenna's head - just in case. Well, there are less than twenty minutes left in the movie, and it's been obvious for awhile that the entire paragraph above was justified, but naive. I am very curious to see how this is going to play out, and wondering how Bishop is keeping his sanity. You'll know what I mean when you see the film (they recently arrived in Italy). Funny, I just rewatched "The Departed," and there is some overlapping thematic material in these two movies (as in, "rats like cheese"). Who's going to crack first, I wonder - the underlying tension introduced in the past 10-20 minutes is now permanent until something happens. All I know is this: Any film that makes you worry about the fate of a cold-blooded killer can't be all bad, but I'm nearly 100% confident that Bishop is going to be okay, and I'll tell you why when I finish the film - the answer was right before my eyes about forty-five minutes ago. The movie is over, and I was wrong. I thought *sure* the karate match between the old master and the young, cocky kid who broke the rules (about an hour into the movie) was a direct parallel to what would happen at the end. It wasn't, and I'm shocked that Bishop would put himself in the position he did, regardless of what eventually happened to McKenna. This movie "broke the rules" of drama by not letting me take advantage of the foreshadowing I saw, but I guess everyone got their comeuppance in the end, so it's dramatically complete, and really - where was Bishop going to go? For that matter, where was McKenna going to go? His snuffing of Bishop was *not* sanctioned by Bishop's employers (even though the film could have made that more clear), and they were angry about Bishop taking him on as an apprentice. It's still not clear to me why Bishop would unilaterally take on a partner without even asking his mysterious, shady, yet clearly *very* powerful bosses - he was only asking for trouble, and sure enough, he got it. I also remember the last scene of the movie very well, although I didn't remember it was from this film (I last saw this with my dad when I was eleven). It is just not reconcilable that Bishop would do this to himself, and that's the one fatal flaw in The Mechanic - he was too smart, with too much to lose, to let himself slip up like this, especially when he knew it was coming. Yes, he essentially "insured" his life, but to what end? Thus, The Mechanic just isn't a great film - it's a good action flick, with slightly insufficient character development, and inadequate justification of the choices Bishop made - it's worth watching as long as you know you're not seeing anything profound, but it just doesn't make enough sense for any intelligent person to buy into. And there you have the opinion of DonRocks.