Film: Magnificent Seven Directed by Antoine Fuqua
I’m not a huge Western fan (I’m reading my first western book now), but I remember watching the original Magnificent Seven when I was younger and loving it. Good guys. Bad guys. And not necessarily a storybook ending. In this remake (the original itself being a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic Seven Samurai) the owner of the local mine wants to take over the town and will do whatever he needs to in order to run everyone out. Emma Cullen’s husband is killed in the initial skirmish, and while she seeks righteousness, if necessary, she’ll take revenge. She hires a warrant officer (Denzel Washington) who puts together a motley crew to save the town.
The remake has several things going for it. First, it’s incredibly diverse, with an African American lead, along with white, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American supporting roles. Chris Pratt’s character is very similar to his other recent roles (Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World come to mind), so it’s interesting to see what they do with him in the end.
While the film has been a modest success critically (currently holding a 62% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), I believe this remake does justice to the original. The only downside is the villain who’s a little ridiculous, but hey, he’s not one of the magnificent seven, so give him a break.
– Richie Gowin
Book: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi:
What a trip. When I finished reading Homegoing I felt my head spinning from the massive journey I just flew through. In her novel Yaa Gyasi creates an amazing collection of intertwined stories that begins in the heart of Africa at the dawn of the slave trade. In a perfectly comprehensive whirlwind she takes the reader through decades of oppression, romance, struggle and triumph. Through the variegated lenses of 14 separate third person narratives Gyasi weaves an integrated genealogy. Each story provides a unique perspective and through the generational progression reflects overarching socio-political evolution. The author presents issues of race and being black in a sensitive yet earnest way without ever usurping the voices of the individuals telling the stories. In exploring this issue, she writes not only about tensions between black and white people but between Africans and African-American’s (in Marjorie’s chapter she feels she is the “wrong kind of black”), and between African tribes.
The stories carry themes of belonging versus displacement and obviously (as the title suggests) of home. Where is home and what does it look like to people who have been uprooted from their original one? How long can you be away from home before you no longer belong in that place? The concept of family and remembering ancestral roots also lie at the core of this book. Gyasi makes the reader feel like a fly on the wall in a time machine skipping through years in beautiful, though often tragic, snapshots. She seems to have achieved what, the final character, Marcus, aims for: “what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it–not apart from it, but inside of it” (295-96).
– Jessica Webster
Film: Dope (2015) Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Dope is one of those movies that I fell in love with from the opening scene. It’s quirky and witty, and elevates the poor-kid-in-a-rough-neighborhood drama into something I haven’t seen before. The movie has style on multiple levels, helped along no doubt by producer Pharrell Williams and co-star (and model) Chanel Iman (who spends most of her scenes topless, FYI). This movie combines conversations about pop sub-cultures, race, poverty, and drugs into an intensely interesting and gripping plot, but ends with a “mic drop” comment about how the general white population views poor black people that almost made my mouth hang open. Maybe this movie, which manages to be sort of a feel-good-movie in spite of all the stuff going down, strung me along and hit all the right buttons in a Hollywood sort of way, but it was totally worth it.
– Karissa Tucker
Short Story Collection: Island by Alistair MacLeod
It’s a rare book that makes you feel you have something to say. There are books that enlist you or repulse you, or if they’re very clever, do both at the same time. And there are books that give clearer voice to your own tangled thoughts. “I can’t say it as well as Keillor, but it goes something like…” However, all of these books make you want to talk about them. It’s harder to find a book that makes you want to talk to it.
On my first day at home after a long absence, I finished Island, a collection of short stories by Alistair MacLeod. I haven’t the same things to say as he had, and I could only dream of writing prose as pellucid. However, the turn of each story made me feel as though I had something I might say. He was talking about his home; I might talk about mine. This is the sort of book that brings thoughts and feelings about place and heritage to the surface. It’s the sort of book that is likely to read you.
– David Shelton