By: Kevin Jordan

The good, the bad, and the ugly.


I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Saturday Night Live alumni, its writers, or its producers.  I stopped watching the full show in college (we would watch the opening segment, then ignore it until Weekend Update when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey were crushing it), then quit altogether due to a combination of Fey and Fallon leaving the show and the show becoming the least funny thing on television, which includes those animal commercials from Sarah McLachlan.  Perhaps my biggest problem with movies written for and by SNL people is that most of the jokes seem like they are either really long setups with little to no payoff or inside jokes between the cast and crew.  And we know this is likely to be the case because every one of their films include production notes or interviews describing all of the improvisation going on throughout production.  Just once, I’d like to see the screenplay for one of these films to see how much of it was flat out ignored because there is no way you will convince that every movie featuring Wiig wrote down that she should sing at some point during the film.

The good news is that I’m willing to give these people repeated chances to impress me rather than just being a curmudgeon.  Jason Sudeikis won me over after Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers and is one of the main reasons why I decided to give Masterminds a chance.  Kristen Wiig is slowly improving in my book, as I may or may not have made a voodoo doll of her after Bridesmaids.  While she can’t carry a movie, she’s decent in supporting roles and delivers well when restrained by good writing and directing.  Toss in Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson and Masterminds seemed like it might have a chance with me.

There was a time when I’d be rooting for her to shoot herself.

More good news is that this movie does have some funny content.  The movie is based on the true story of a man named David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a Loomis Fargo employee, who (with several other people) decided to rob Loomis Fargo and got away with more than $17 million dollars, though all of them were eventually caught and most of the money recovered.  You should always beware of films claiming to be “based on a true story,” and this one is no different, but to its credit, the film keeps the major plot points intact (if you want to read about it, the wiki page is pretty good, as are many other search results).  My favorite factoid is that local residents came to refer to as “the hillbilly heist” and that’s where the film gets its real inspiration, though not the better parts of its comedy.  For me, the film got funny when unexpected things happened, which is basically the opposite of what happens on SNL.  Just to ruin one joke, Wiig takes a punch to the gut as she is standing next to a door and David is trying to open it from the other side.  And, no, it’s not just because Wiig got punched.

This is where the unexpected happens.

The bad news is this movie is very obviously SNL-inspired.  Or maybe that’s good news for those of you who forgot what good comedy looks and sounds like.  It features jokes that take way too long to develop, including walking meme, Kate McKinnon, playing David’s fiancé Jandice.  She delivers every line through clenched teeth and a sociopath’s smile and literally has nothing to do with the plot.  She is used as nothing more than an elaborate setup for a fight involving vagina cream (I am not making that up) and David’s crush, Kelly (Wiig).  What’s odd about this fight is that the two women have never met (at least that the audience is aware of), yet Jandice jumps her like a mountain lion when they meet at a department store.  It features gross-out gags (diarrhea in a pool, among others), one of which is far funnier in the outtakes than in finished film.  It features uncomfortable/awkward humor, including pre-wedding picture-posing by David and Jandice and a how-we-met story that makes you die a little inside.  In other words, it’s a great reminder of why I don’t watch SNL any more.

The ugly news is that the film features hammed up costumes, makeup effects, and accents (or lack thereof).  Of all of the true components to keep, the fact that the actual heist took place in 1997 is probably the last one that should have been kept.  Since the movie takes place in a North Carolina trailer park and Mexico, two places where time stopped mattering long ago, trying to be authentic with the visuals doesn’t add to the comedy, but does make you wonder when this movie really is taking place.  All of the sight jokes involving looks they go for fall flat, from David’s Lord Farquat haircut, to Steve (Owen Wilson) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) Chambers’ teeth and braces, to all of their bad clothing.  Considering I am the target audience for those jokes (I was in high school in 1997), I can definitively say that 1997 didn’t look that way.  And as for those accents, either do them or don’t do them.  Galifianakis’ and Sudeikis’ held steady, but Wiig’s went in and out, and Wilson didn’t even bother.  That’s the sign of a director who was hired basically as nothing more than a manager to make sure everyone showed up for work every day.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Despite all of that, the movie was better than I expected, especially considering it featured three-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.  I found myself laughing at times and never thinking about how to get hair from the actors in order to make more voodoo dolls.  Galifianakis and Sudeikis make the movie worth watching and the film refrains from making Ghantt a total idiot (which would have ruined the movie outright).  It’s by no means good enough to make me want to sit through another SNL skit (let alone an entire episode), but it could have been a lot worse – it could have featured four-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.

Rating: Ask for 4 dollars back.  I’d say it was slightly better than meh.

The Magnificent Seven

By: Kevin Jordan

Yee *snore* haw.

If there’s one thing about being a movie critic that is annoying it’s when people get all incredulous when I tell them I haven’t seen <insert movie title here>.  It’s usually a movie that happens to be their favorite movie, so life stops making sense to them when I have the temerity to tell them I haven’t seen their favorite movie.  Or every movie ever made, for that matter.  This is always immediately followed by “well, you really need to see it.”  This is a good time to remind you, dear shocked readers, that I am only thirty-seven years old and “movie critic” is not currently a paid job that I hold.  I do this in my spare time and I watch roughly 70 movies released each year.  I’ve even added an extra movie a week with my Movie Fixers podcast (shout out to my two friends that co-host with me), which means I’m watching 120-ish movies a year and given that movie watching schedule, I don’t really have time to watch everyone’s favorite movie.  I’m fairly certain you aren’t watching that many movies, so you probably don’t want to start a game of have-you-seen-this-movie with me.

I bring this up because I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven.  No less than two people were surprised by this, even though the original came out 16 years before I was born.  Granted, according to a little research, it’s the second-most shown movie on television (behind The Wizard of Oz), but it’s not like The Wizard of Oz is shown on a daily basis.  Plus, the original was considered a box office disappointment (just $2.25M in the US) and is really only well-known for its musical score.  It might even be more of a surprise if I had seen the original.

Anyway, this year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven is what you would expect from a remake – uninspiring and not an improvement on the original (so I was told), which explains why it was released in mid-September despite starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.  The plot was tweaked from “seven gunman protect Mexican town from pillaging bandits” to “seven men protect farming town from pillaging gold mine owner.”  While I don’t have any problem with the overarching plot – it’s standard fare for Westerns – the details left a lot to be desired.

The biggest problem with the film is the severe lack of character development.  All seven of the magnificents were nothing more than cardboard cutouts, as was the woman who hired them, Emma (Haley Bennett), and the villain, Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).  You root for or against them for the most basic of reasons – Bogue is greedy and kills people, Emma’s husband was murdered by Bogue’s men, and the magnificent seven are the titular characters.  Beyond that, you have no reason to care about any of them when the bullets start flying, and you won’t care when the bodies start piling up (on both sides, including some of the seven).  Bigger than that is that all seven of these guys are hinted at being shady characters, yet all of them join this most righteous of crusades with little-to-no convincing required.  For the lack of information given on any of them, it’s just as easy to believe these guys are in it simply to kill people as they are to help out the townsfolk.

1, 2, 3, yep – that’s 7.

Just to linger a moment on motivations and relationships here, we have no idea why Sam Chisolm (Washington) picks most of these guys.  We hear a piece of a war story that connects him to Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), but nothing to explain why they decide to hug each other at their reunion (they fought on opposite sides of the war).  Besides Goodnight (and, yes, that’s his actual name), the rest join simply by being in the right place or because Chisolm once heard of them.  None of them have any special or unique skills which means we’re in for a very generic gunfight in the climax.

Who are you supposed to be again?

Much is going to be made of the diversity of the casting of the seven (Washington, Pratt, Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier), but shouldn’t change an opinion of the film when all seven characters are interchangeable, one-dimensional gun slingers (though Lee gets a knife skill and Sensmeier is a Comanche wielding a bow and arrows)?  It’s hard to get excited about the lesser-known actors when the writers don’t bother to give them any backstory to speak of.  Plus, why isn’t Emma part of the seven?  She seems to be nearly as good a shot as any and is the only person who seems to actually give a damn about saving the town.  She shows more emotion than the entire seven combined.

The Seven are diverse…as long as we aren’t counting women.

What this boils down to is this film is another ho-hum remake a long list of remakes this year that nobody asked for.  If you are into throw-back westerns and high body counts, this movie is for you.  If you expect more than that out of a movie, especially one that wastes Chris Pratt’s comedic talent (the jokes are there, but the seriousness of the movie steps on most of them), you’ll be bored by this film.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and I won’t get mad at you for being shocked that I’ve never watched a Clint Eastwood western.