Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

       The latest black comedy form writer/director Martin McDonagh falls short of his excellent prior film,"In Bruges" but never the less contains moments of sheer brilliance. There are gems of one-liners and moments of comedic madness that are orchestrated by a first rate cast. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter, working on a new script entitled "Seven Psychopaths". His co-stars are Sam Rockwell, his best friend, who is easily a total psychopath and Christopher Walken, Mr. Rockwell's partner in a dog kidnapping scam.

       When Mr. Rockwell kidnaps the beloved dog of a psychopathic gangster, played by Woody Harrelson, everything spirals out of control and even as the body count rises, you find yourself laughing at the great dialog and insane circumstances. Mr. Farrell actually plays the straight man here to all the madness around him. Mr. Rockwell all but steals the film with an outrageous performance behind an innocent facade. Mr. Walken is the definition of weird behavior. His deadpan humor and timing are comedic masterstrokes. And like many directors before him, Mr. McDonagh obviously prefers to work with many of the same actors in all his vehicles. There are some wonderful cameos from Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg and Gabourey Sidibe. Unfortunately the women in the film are underused and underwritten but Mr. McDonagh freely admits that in a clever confessional piece of dialog.

       Happily no animals are ever in harm's way but you can't say the same for many of the human characters. Mr. McDonagh's writing is not for everyone. His Broadway shows and films are comedies of the darkest human condition. He doesn't shy away from bloody violence to illustrate his points and while the violence of "Seven Psychopaths" may shock you, it all makes perfect sense in Mr. McDonagh's world. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas

      A sprawling, ambitious film of epic proportions, writers/directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer should be applauded just for  filming it in the first place. The film begins with an old man recounting a story in a strange English syntax and then introduces six individual stories that are connected by a common thread. 

      In the original novel, the six stories begin and end individually. In the film version, Mr. Tykwer and The Wachowski's have decided to flash back and forth between the tales creating a dizzying effect that in the beginning, may be hard to keep up with. The editing is remarkable as during various times of this almost 3 hour adventure, scenes may only last seconds or minutes in each segment and yet they all connect beautifully. Once the viewer matches pace to the rhythmic nature of the various narratives, it becomes easier to follow and you find yourself immersed in the overall film. 

      The film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and Bae Doo-na all in multiples roles, sometimes under layers of makeup.  Part of the fun of the film is discovering, at the end, who played which character and the answers may surprise you. Regarding the acting ability of such a star-studded cast, I can only say that, with six revolving plots, they are better in some than others.

          As the film weaves in and out of it's various narratives, from the 1800's, the 1900's, into the present and far into the future, each story deepens and some work better than others. It's like watching six little mini-movies and I will leave it up to the viewer to decide which ones they favor.  The camera work and special effects are terrific as well as some of the natural scenery. Taken as a complete work, "Cloud Atlas" is a satisfying fun ride with a thrilling climax as each story plays out within the total narrative. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


    Ben Affleck directs and stars in this exciting new thriller based on a real story. The film works perfectly on every level providing the viewer with a terrific time at the movies. The story takes place during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980 and until recently, had been classified by the U.S. Government. When the U.S. embassy was overrun and hostages taken, six American diplomats managed to escape and take refuge in the Canadian Embassy. This is the story of what happened to those six Americans. 

    The direction is so good that it's hard to believe this is only his third time behind the camera. The editing is terrific as Mr. Affleck cuts through what must be a very complicated story to get to it's core elements and move the action along at breakneck speed. The plan of the rescue mission is faking a movie shoot in Iran and smuggling out the Americans under the guise of a Canadian film crew. The scenes in Hollywood are very funny with the laughs coming from John Goodman and Alan Arkin who help Mr. Affleck create his fake film cover story. The humor here and scattered through the rest of the film is a welcome relief from the dramatic tension of the situation.

     Mr. Affleck brings out the best from his actors, including Bryan Cranston, as his CIA superior and his six American diplomats who display first fear, then boredom, confusion, and fear again as their situation becomes more and more desperate. Using actual archival footage mixed with recreated scenes, Mr. Affleck makes you believe every moment and the last act of the film increases the tension to unbearable "edge of your seat" viewing.

     The film is smart, fast paced, exciting and very entertaining. A great start to the "serious movie" season.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Master

      A master class in acting keeps you mesmerized to the screen even if the story doesn't. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams ignite the screen in Oscar worthy performances.

      Rumored to be based on L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Scientology, the film tells the story of Lancaster Dodd, the "master" of a new movement called "The Cause".  It is a period film set shortly after the end of World War Two when America was entering into a new age of growth and enlightenment.

       Mr. Hoffman plays Dodd as an towering father figure to Mr. Phoenix's Freddie Quell, a troubled and alcoholic ex-sailor. Dodd takes Freddie under his wing and tries to "cure" Freddie's problems through "The Cause". Amy Adams co-stars as Dodd's wife, Peggy and it is a wonderful performance against type. Ms. Adams shows a depth of acting far beyond her other work. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, he brings out the best from all three of his stars as well as his supporting cast.

       The cinematography is outstanding and there are many beautifully framed and acted moments throughout the film. Mr. Anderson has crafted a fine piece of visual art but the film eventually lives and dies by the plot.  Will Freddie find salvation through "The Cause"? Will Dodd's work be recognized or reviled? The film shares some similarity to Mr. Anderson's last film, "There Will Be Blood". Both films contain scenes of shock and awe and acceptance is a very thin line. Mr. Anderson is a brilliant director but he will always polarize his audience. You will either buy into the story or not.  And if you don't, you will leave the theater feeling your time wasted. But if you do, then images of "The Master" will stay with you for a long time.


 Brian DePalma is the perfect director for a English version of the French thriller, "Love Crimes".  Of course leave it to Mr. DePalma to tinker with the script and create a film that is familiar (to the original version) and yet, unique enough to stand on it's own. The film is a throwback to his early thrillers, "Dressed To Kill", "Sisters", and "Raising Cain" with a little of "Femme Fatale" thrown in for good measure.

        The story of a advertising executive and her backstabbing boss has everything that you would expect from Mr. DePalma. Kinky sex, betrayal, red herrings, and murder all add up to a lurid tale of office intrigue filmed only they way Brain DePalma can do it. Voyeuristic camera work along with a jarring score ratchet up the suspense and an altered ending from the French version keeps the viewer guessing even after the film ends. It's clear that Mr. DePalma likes to mess with his audience's head.

         The film stars Rachel McAdams as Charlotte, the self centered executive and Noomi Rapace as the innocent, yet talented underling on the rise. This is an interesting choice as you would normally expect the roles reversed to showcase each actress but instead they play against type and manage to pull it off. The film, while in English was filmed in Berlin and has a European flavor. Besides the two female stars, there are no known actors to an American audience. There allows Mr. DePalma  freedom to make his film without Hollywood interference. The thriller has it's lighter sides with some humorous scenes that may seem out of place but since Mr. DePalma also wrote the script, everything is intentional whether it works or not.

          "Passion" has already played in other parts of the world and I don't believe it has a U.S. distributor as yet so it may be awhile before you can see it here. However, if you are a fan of those previously mentioned films, seek it out and you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Room 237

      One of the strangest documentaries you will ever see and a must for fans of "The Shining".

           Over the years, rumors have been rampant that director Stanley Kubrick had placed hidden messages throughout "The Shining" to represent it's true intentions. Director Rodney Ascher focuses on five of the most interesting theories surrounding Mr. Kubrick's subliminal meaning. The film explores theories of American Indian genocide, The Holocaust, the faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing and more.

            Rather than just interview his subjects, Mr. Ascher opts for a unique approach. Using visuals from all of Mr. Kubrick's films (as well as others) to serve as a backdrop for the audio, the film takes on a life of it's own in a fascinating way. The result makes for many humorous scenes and  amazing moments of cinema and as the film progresses, the conspiracy theories become more and more credible. Repetitive clips from "The Shining" dominate the footage and yet you never lose interest because the same scenes take on new meaning when each of the various theories are discussed throughout the film.

              This is not a film for a casual viewer but conspiracy fans, fans of Mr. Kubrick, and of course, "The Shining" itself, will have a great time and have you rushing home to watch the original film again in a whole new way.