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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.
When I was young, I saw Roots (1977) and Holocaust (1978), and they were both very hard on me, nearly impossible to finish. But I don't think any film or series has been more difficult for me to watch than 12 Years A Slave (2013). It took me two days to get through it, and I'm surprised I did (I simply cannot watch people being tortured, even if it's "just a movie.") SPOILERS Perhaps the most amazing thing about this film is that, for a couple of hours, it made *me* a slave. From the time Solomon Northup woke up in chains, up until the time when I was mercifully allowed to see Brad Pitt (a character who I've never been so relieved to see in a movie), I was immersed in sheer Hell. It was as close to a visceral reaction as I've ever had from a film. This movie is tough, tough going, and spares nothing in terms of brutality. I have never wanted to jump through a movie screen, and choke the living shit out of people, as much as I wanted to with 12 Years A Slave. I once asked a friend of mine if he watched Shoah. "Yes, I watched the whole thing because I promised myself I would," he said. This is sort of like that - if you want movie-watching pleasure, steer well-clear of 12 Years A Slave, but if you're looking to examine things in this world, you owe it to about twelve-million people to suffer through, and suffer you will. Some quotes that resonate with me: "It's a film made for a mass audience, but it doesn't want them to feel comfortable for a second." -- Tom Huddleston, TimeOut.com "It's the unhappiest happy ending I've ever seen ...." -- Dana Stevens, Slate.com "It is a film that necessity and education demand seeing." -- David Thompson, The New Republic "I've never seen a sequence [referring to the extended hanging punishment scene] that so elegantly uses duration to lay out an ecosystem of power and powerlessness ...." -- Wesley Morris, Grantland.com "Indeed, it's embarrassing for America that a British director, Steve McQueen ("Shame"), should have had to make this film at all, and that in 2013 it should constitute a breakthrough in cinema for American slavery to be depicted as something entirely evil." -- Mick LaSalle, SFgate.com There will be more, but I need a break.