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Deepwater Horizon ••

deepwater_horizon_filmStarring: Mark Wahlberg,  Kurt Russell,  Douglas M. Griffin
Director Peter Berg
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan,  Matthew Sand
Action/Drama/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2016


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It’s October and time for a hunt for a good film. Deepwater Horizon was our first stop – and I fear we’ll have to keep looking.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

We’re going to have to go deeper into the year for Oscar material and then we’ll find brighter horizons. Let’s recap.

We are introduced to Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) – a rigger for the oil drilling ship the Deep Horizon. He spends time with his daughter who is doing a show-and-tell about her father’s job. For her class (and the audience) she explains that Williams drills the hole that releases millennia-old dinosaur-created oil so that subsequent ships may come and pump the oil out. Williams heads out to the airport where he meets the captain of their ship – James “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) and pilot Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). Things are not getting off to a good start when it appears the cement cap team is leaving the Deepwater Horizon prematurely.

It turns out that BP representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) made the executive decision to bypass the normal safety procedure of testing the cement cap. Harrell is unhappy with this development and insists on conducting some pressure tests of the main pipeline. The results are ambiguous, leading to a follow-up test of the “kill-line”. Meanwhile, far beneath the sea, we witness ominous fissures, bubbles, and pressure brewing. Up on the rig, workers are relaxed and cracking jokes, unaware of the impending disaster.

Scott, Deepwater Horizon is a technically well-crafted movie. The effects and acting are just great. You will believe those people are on a burning drilling rig. However, as a story, the movie falls flat. It’s merely a “day in the life” of some people who were in a terrible situation. This movie pales in comparison to Sully, the film of Capt. Sullenberger and his heroic efforts to save a failed flight.

Sully had a true plot with villains and heroes. While Deepwater attempts to create drama with BP’s Vidrine acting as a villain, there is no true problem to solve. Deepwater is content to throw us into the events of the worst oil spill in American history, but not to give us a proper story with a beginning, middle, and an end. I didn’t have a good time.

I hate to agree with you, Greg, but I have no choice. This movie desperately needed Clint Eastwood’s magic touch, the same touch that turned Sully from a potentially dull day-in-the-life story into a riveting portrayal of a complex man in a complex situation. In Deepwater Horizon, there really isn’t any complexity. In fact, you and I knew exactly what would happen before we entered the theater: A big company wanted to save money by cutting corners on safety procedures. The good guys warned the big company of the consequences, but to no avail. Disaster ensued.

We do have a hero’s journey, but it tends to be a one-dimensional account of the good guys being thrown into a calamity and having to survive it. The CGI effects are terrific, which is this movie’s one saving grace. But they aren’t enough to compensate for the simplicity of the story, such as it is. Jimmy Harrell sort of mentors Mike Williams, but not really. A running joke (and a bad one at that) throughout the film is all the mentoring advice people are giving Fleytas about her car, but it’s not relevant to anything. The story and the characters all suffer from a fatal case of blandness, although I must confess that Kate Hudson’s character Felicia was gorgeous and had my full attention.

Deepwater Horizon is an exciting disaster film, but with few other enticements. The production values are good as is the acting. But the film lacks heart and borders on documentary. I can only give it 2 out of 5 Reels.

The men and women on the Deepwater Horizon acted heroically. Their counterparts in BP were vilified and made to look to be at fault for the accident. It’s hard to be objective since the film was slanted against the BP execs. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for this film.

The mentors are lacking as there isn’t a lot of guidance through a special world, or gifts given. I offer only 1 Mentor point out of 5.

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I completely agree, Greg. The filmmakers here missed an opportunity to tell a good story about a senseless disaster. Instead, we’re treated to a film plagued by all the cliches of disaster movies from yesteryear. Deepwater Horizon isn’t a complete fiasco; it just suffers from bland predictability. I’d say 2 Reels out of 5 is a generous rating here.

There is a hero’s journey in this story, but it’s a fairly one-dimensional tale of survival. Our heroes are good decent people whom we root for, and our villains are shortsighted selfish bastards who deserve to be locked up. There’s no depth, no heroic transformation of character, just survival. Again, a rating of 2 out of 5 Heroes seems about right for me.

Alas, the heroic mentorship in this film is even more lacking than the other key elements of the hero story. There’s some implied mentoring that we never see but little else. A rating of 1 Mentor point out of 5 seems about right.

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The Magnificent Seven •••1/2

magnificent_seven_2016Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto
Action/Adventure/Western, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2016


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Scott, I missed “The Magnificent” prequels – one through six. Can you fill me in before we review The Magnificent Seven?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, just read The Joy of Six and you’ll be fully up to speed. Let’s recap.

The 1870s town of Rose Creek has a problem: it’s been overrun by robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He has enslaved many of the townsmen as miners for his gold mine. He has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way. When he burns down the church and kills Emma Cullen’s (Haley Bennett) husband in cold blood, she goes in search of someone who can stand up to Bogue, and get her revenge.

Enter warrant officer and bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Emma meets Chisolm and asks him to take back the town of Rose Creek. At first, Chisolm declines, but changes his mind when he hears it is Bogue who rules the town. Chisolm realizes he needs a team, so he recruits bad-boy Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife guru Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Comanche tribesman Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Texican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

Scott, depending on how you count, this is the third incarnation of this film. The original was Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai from 1954. It recounts a village overrun by mean guys with swords and the recruitment of seven estranged samurai to save the town. Six years later, John Sturges reimagined the story as an American western with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson in the saddles. This new incarnation has the same basic plot, but with a modern cast.

I think this version works quite well. Denzel is as great as ever. He’s cool and collected and stands toe-to-toe with any bad guy. Chris Pratt offers the comedic relief – playing the same role he plays in all his films, especially since his break-out role in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s witty, snarky, and disarmingly charming. The cast is more multicultural than the earlier incarnations bringing in an African American, Irishman, Native American, and a Chinese man. This new casting works (although the idea of an arrow-wielding Indian taking on a town full of sharp shooters was a little hard to believe).

Greg, anyone who enjoys the western genre will enjoy this movie. Every western trope is trotted out like a showhorse and used effectively. Unlike westerns of yesteryear, this iteration of The Magnificent Seven carries with it some modern sensibilities. Our two main heroes are a woman and an African American, much like last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You know this movie is in safe, capable hands when the lead role is occupied by none other than Denzel Washington and the talented Haley Bennett. They make a good team.

In a sense, this movie packs two stories into one. First, we get the “origin story” of these superheroes, the backstory of how seven unlikely men unite to save a town. We are then treated to the heroic fruits of these men’s selfless labors. In a way, each member of the ensemble is shown to possess a unique “superpower”. For Chisolm, it is leadership, as he skillfully persuades each man to join what seems to be a lost cause. Faraday’s power is courage. For Bear, it is strength. For Red Harvest, the bow and arrow. For Billy Rocks, the knife. For Robicheaux, sharpshooting.

Good call, Scott. In our book “Reel Heroes & Villains” we identify this as an ensemble hero pattern with police or military attributes. Like other ensembles, there is a clear leader and lesser followers. We’ve seen this in movies such as Eye in the Sky and Suicide Squad. There are often leaders among the ensemble and Mag7 is no exception. While Chisolm is the leader, it is truly the story of the team. Each character has a role to fill.

In terms of mentoring, there is a lack of true mentorship here. There’s the implied “law of the west” which seems to guide our heroes. But there’s not a single character who guides our heroes, giving advice and gifts to help them along in their quest. You might make an argument that Bogue is a dark mentor for his followers. But that is a stretch. He’s a pure evil villain and his minions are just as broadly drawn. However, Chisolm and his friends do mentor the town in how to protect themselves and to take on the responsibility of protecting their town.

I guess it may depend on how you define mentorship. Chisolm does mentor the sharpshooter Robicheaux, who seems to have a bad case of PTSD. Chisolm gives him a good motivational speech, telling him that “what we lost in the fire we can find again in the ashes.” As you point out, Robicheaux and a few others try to mentor the townspeople with mixed success. These ordinary townspeople only have one week to prepare for the onslaught and can only rise to the challenge so much.

I would like to point out that once again we have a movie in which a woman character has a transformative influence on male characters. Here it is Emma Cullen, the woman who seeks justice for her murdered husband. We’ve seen this pattern of women transforming men in recent movies such as The Light Between Oceans and Snowden. I wouldn’t call it a mentoring role, but Cullen does single-handedly set the plotline in motion by offering Chisolm and his men the opportunity for heroism. Cullen is a strong female character who ends up saving Chisolm’s life at the end.

The Magnificent Seven is an entertaining and occasionally humorous film. There aren’t many westerns in theaters any more. Mag7 delivered everything you’d expect from a great western. There were good guys who weren’t all that good, and bad guys who were all bad. There were Indians and bear hunters. It was an all-around good time. I give The Magnificent Seven 4 out of 5 Reels.

These are some classic heroes. While they weren’t necessarily the most moral of men, they were on the right side of the fight. As an ensemble, they shared the spotlight. While Chisolm took the lead, he had great help from his sidekicks. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The movie was light on the mentorship. Our heroes tried to teach the townspeople to shoot. We were left with the law of the west as the guidepost for our heroes. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Mentor points.

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I enjoyed Mag7, too, but probably not quite as much as you did, Greg. As westerns go, this one largely succeeds on the strength of its diverse ensemble cast, led with the cool confidence of Denzel Washington. There are good performances all around, coupled with some great gun battles. For offering a mindless escape from reality that incorporates all the fun elements of a western flick, I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

This ensemble group does indeed travel the hero’s journey, and they do so collectively as well as individually. I enjoyed following the various personal growth patterns of several of our heroes. Not all of them were so magnificent, but their selfless sacrifice truly captures a central element of heroism. These heroes merit a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

Chisolm was a good mentor to a few of the magnificent seven, and Robicheaux attempted to mentor the inept townspeople. There is also implied dark mentorship of our irredeemably evil villain, Bogue. Overall, the mentors were solid although certainly not a prominent feature of this film. These mentors deserve a rating of 3 out of 5.

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