Denzel Washington makes his Western movie debut in this Wild West remake of the 1960 American film classic. Director Antoine Faqua, who brought us “Training Day” and “The Equalizer” starring Washington, now showcases the Academy Award-winning actor as methodical gunslinger Sam Chisolm, a soft-spoken but duly sworn bounty hunter who must save a small farming town from a greedy, tyrannical killer and his men.Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke bookend a magnificent supporting cast of unsavory characters that boast gun-fighting reputations and skills found as far away as three days’ travel by horse. One of the film’s best attributes is the recruiting trip and sales pitch that Denzel Washington must take in order to assemble his diverse band of justice warriors. The unwritten Code of the West says that you never ask a cowboy about his past, only judge him for the man he is today. Perhaps in no other movie genre is less character development expected or required than in Westerns. As predictive as the gun-blazing endings to these old frontier stories are, viewers can just as easily spot the troublemakers in every saloon and along each dirt-filled main street. “The Magnificent Seven” is no exception, with twitchy fingers, long stares and whispered voices the precursors to gunfire and scattered bystanders. From one deadly dust-up to another, this suspense thriller packs steady rounds of bullets flying and wisecracks flowing. Justice may have a number, but that sum is vastly lower than the overwhelming odds these seven must confront. In the meantime, though, camaraderie, card games and whiskey calm the mercenaries’ nerves.Although Washington, Pratt and Hawke aren’t Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson from John Sturges’ roll-out 56 years ago (which was based on Japan’s film “The Seven Samurai” in 1954), this 2016 version is impressive on its own merit. The cinematography, while underutilized, captures New Mexico’s land of enchantment with its picturesque sheer, rocky cliffs. Scoring the film’s music at the time of his death, “Titanic” composer James Horner brings crossed looks, showdowns and even nightly campfires alive through his talented sound mix. Despite a predictable plot, “The Magnificent Seven” rustles up a widely satisfying film for moviegoers to consume. It singlehandedly grabs a Colt .45 Peacemaker and makes Westerns cool again. A well-acted ensemble that looks like a United Nations peacekeeping force, is anything but. “The Magnificent Seven” looks, feels and sounds like the Old West. And that’s how it should be. Giddy up.
In his latest film, controversial Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone presents a fairly balanced dramatization on the true life mass surveillance program exposed by former National Security Agency computer whiz Edward Snowden in 2013. Smartly, Stone never makes the case that Snowden’s leaks of this nation’s highest classified materials should give the whistleblower a free pass from any future criminal prosecution. Instead, “Snowden” revolves around the single premise of whether a government should be able to collect, store and, potentially, tap into the personal information of innocent people. Focusing solely on the nine-year period between Edward Snowden’s hire at the Central Intelligence Agency to his sudden departure from the NSA, “Snowden” superbly illustrates how personal electronic devices leave an unmistakable cyber trail for others to manipulate and potentially apply pressure points upon our daily lives. Moviegoers will be alarmed at how shared data from phone calls, emails, text messages and even web cameras can all be exploited unknowingly to reveal a person’s social media DNA fingerprint. Ever wonder how your Google searches or Amazon.com merchandise inquiries create those annoying, yet specific, pop-up ads on your social media applications and news feeds? “Snowden” offers a glimpse behind the clandestine curtain to uncover a Mega-data collection program used to drag-net the globe in a post 9-11 world, where the U.S. intelligence community is determined never to be caught flat-footed again by terrorists.This red-meat film takes on the U.S. spy agencies and government contractors charged with staying one step ahead of our adversaries. To Stone’s credit, “Snowden” isn’t politicized and equally blames the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for the loss of our citizenship’s privacy. Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous. While Edward Snowden’s perspective on the need and use of mass surveillance takes top priority, the film does acknowledge that the former SIGINT geek broke classified-handling laws and knowingly revealed our country’s most sensitive collection techniques. Less explained is the powerful Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or “FISA Court”), established in 1978 and authorized to oversee our government’s surveillance warrant requests on foreign spies operating inside the U.S. Or how Snowden’s going public wasted a valuable intel tool and probably fast-forwarded other countries’ cyber surveillance desires. “Snowden” is an American rights story that resonates well beyond the simplistic patriot or traitor media headline still propagated today. It arms us with enough background on mass surveillance to ask ourselves the hard questions on personal privacy and seek answers from individuals and agencies used to operating in secrecy and outside of public view by necessity. It would behoove all Americans to get more knowledgeable on the FISA Court and the authorities and powers it grants to so few. And to weigh, individually, at what cost are we willing to forgo our privacy in this high-tech gadget and social media world.