Cinema Review: Seven Psychopaths

DIR/WRI: Martin McDonagh • PRO: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Lisa Gunning • DES: David Wasco • CAST: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell

Psychopaths make great movies. Or at least, psychopathic characters make for great movies. Just one psychopath can make for memorable viewing, such as Hannibal Lecter or, in TV land, Dexter. Seven psychopaths? Director Martin McDonagh hasn’t made your standard cinema fare in the past and he’s not about to start now.

 

McDonagh’s follow-up to the superb In Bruges reunites the director with Colin Farrell. Farrell plays the lead, Martin, a Hollywood screenwriter suffering from writer’s block with only the title of his next script committed to paper. The title of his script? ‘Seven Psychopaths’. So let’s recap – Seven Psychopaths is a movie about a screenwriter, named Martin, writing a movie called ‘Seven Psychopaths’. You’d be correct in thinking this not your average cinema material.

 

Seven Psychopaths is recognisable as a McDonagh production through its moments of shocking violence amidst prolonged spells of colourful language. The movie brings to mind similarly mind-bending ventures, such as anything by Charlie Kaufmann. It also recalls Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang as it playfully toys with Hollywood clichés. The movie jumps between the reality of McDonagh’s script and the fantasy of Martin’s script, with one bleeding into the other. McDonagh passes little heed on the innocent audience as he splices the two Hollywood worlds together, stopping just short of having his characters talk directly to the camera in a movie about moviemaking.

 

Farrell is given fantastic support from an array of actors that suit the title very nicely including Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits; men for whom psychosis doesn’t seem much of a stretch. The cast relish McDonagh’s dialogue in a script where anything goes, and regularly does go. Watching Walken and Harrelson share the screen is a sight to behold. Each man trying to out-psychopath the other until they are literally gobbling up scenery as quickly as their maniacally toothy grins will allow. Okay, maybe not literally, but not far off either.

 

With Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh has taken another bold step in cementing his status as a truly fearless and original filmmaker at a time when studios are increasingly fearful of risky business.  You’d be crazy to miss out on this slice of madness.

Peter White

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
110 mins

Seven Psychopaths, is released on 7th December 2012

Seven Psychopaths– Official Website

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvuNfq5vN-w

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Bloody Countdown to Halloween: Alien

As the spooky season raises its sharpened axe to soon fall upon us, the ghouls and goblins of Film Ireland wallow in the terror of the films that embrace the nutty freaks, bloody psychos and raging spoonatics with our ‘Bloody Countdown to Halloween’ – cue Vincent Price laugh…

 

Alien

(Ridley Scott, 1979)
 

Peter White

In space no one can hear you scream. I can say that over and over and it never loses its power. Much like the film itself, Alien‘s tagline is hypnotic, terrifying and utterly memorable. Sitting down to watch this bona fide classic again this week, I struggled to approach it with anything but wide-eyed wonder. I had to remind myself that Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, hasn’t always been around. That in 1979 people sat down to watch this film and fully expected the ship’s captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), with his roguish good looks and manly beard, to save the helpless lady astronauts. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t remove the facehugger from my psyche or the residue of the exploding-chest xenomorph which coated Alien‘s innards all over the face of modern cinema.

Having discarded my attempts at an unbiased reading of Alien, I settled in with the crew of the Nostromo and we screamed our silent screams together. What struck me over and over was how well the visual design of Alien has held up. For a modest budget of $11 million, Ridley Scott and his crew created an environment which remains absolutely believable today. The sets for the interior of the spaceship have a solidity to them which computer effects and green screens fall far short of today. The familiarity of the Nostromo’s design with its recognisable cockpit and mess room amidst airlocks and hibernation stations adds enormously to the film’s believability; fuelling the terror of the whole messy situation.

As impressive as the set design is, the iconic design of the film’s titular enemy remains Alien’s strongest asset. The perfection of the xenomorph’s biology combined with its demonic appearance makes it one of cinema’s greatest creations. Watching the ship’s crew initially chase the creature with a net is, from our vantage point thirty years later, sadistically hilarious. How quickly they run out of ideas and go from hunter to hunted, being outsmarted at every turn, is terrifying and testament to the dazzling design of the alien.

While the alien does indeed look like a man in a suit when we see it briefly in its entirety, I would still take this over the more recent swimming, computer-animated incarnations. The animatronic close-ups of the alien have lost none of their impact. Similarly, the face-hugger remains skin-crawlingly effective. Watching it tighten it’s grip when the crew attempt to remove it from John Hurt’s face before it bleeds acid through the floor is as much nightmare territory now as it would have been thirty years ago.

If the mask fits…

To appreciate Alien is to appreciate cinema. While it is an excellent story in its own right, it is the design of Alien which makes it so memorable. It has lost none of its aesthetic pleasure and still looks more realistic than most special effects oriented films today. For a sci-fi film to retain its impact after so many years places Alien within a very exclusive echelon of cinema. Treat yourself this Hallowe’en to a face-hugging film you won’t soon forget.

Peter White

Check out our blood-soaked countdown of Halloween Horror here

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Cinema Review: Moneyball

Brad manages Rounders team

DIR: Bennett Miller • WRI: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill

Sabermetrics is a term coined by Bill James and defined as ‘the statistical and mathematical analysis of baseball records.’ Moneyball is a true story about statistics and baseball. No wait come back! It stars Brad Pitt; is directed by Bennett Capote Miller; has a screenplay by Steven Schindler’s List Zaillian and Aaron The Social Network Sorkin and is shot by cinematographer Wally Inception Pfister. Surely a team this gifted can overcome the usual strikeout rate for baseball movies outside of the US (where it has already taken a respectable $70 million)?

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a retired baseball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Due to the team’s limited budget, the A’s are largely a feeder club; annually losing their star players to the teams with deeper pockets, i.e. every other team. Following the loss of their three top players in 2002, Beane takes a radical approach to baseball management after meeting economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is an advocate of the Bill James school of thought and convinces Beane that the established system of baseball player acquisitions is skewed and that he can get a winning team within his meagre budget – a team of apparently washed up players and misfits that other teams have disregarded. Beane must risk it all and go against established baseball practice if he wants to win within his limited budget and change the game forever.

As far as plots go – just like Brand’s theory – this one is a hard sell. Statistics and baseball don’t make for a dream team on this side of the Atlantic. At least Moneyball’s team of players are nothing like misfits in Hollywood. Not only does this team win, they hit a home run, with the script, direction and acting combining to knock it out of the park.

The script is sharp, reminiscent of Sorkin’s The Social Network. Dialogue is witty and feels accurate (real-life baseball players and management were central to the production) without ever slipping into the melodrama so common in sporting movies. The direction is similarly minimalist. Pfister utilises a documentary style with natural lighting and an unobtrusive camera, enhancing the realism of the biopic. The acting is most noteworthy with Pitt and Hill shining in spite of the understated tone of the film.

The presence of Pitt was crucial to this film getting off the ground and he excels in the lead role. His natural charisma and svelte athleticism make him immediately convincing as an ex-pro athlete. Hill is similarly impressive in his finest role yet as the nerdy statistician. Both are utterly convincing and inhabit their roles without ever distracting from the film’s plot. These aren’t the flashy roles that cry out for Oscar® recognition and are doubly deserving as a result.

Moneyball will be a hard sell outside of the US but deserves to succeed. Whether it’s a curve ball or not for the Oscars® remains to be seen but it deserves to be in the starting line-up come awards season.

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Moneyball is released on 25th November 2011

Moneyball – Official Website

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George Nolfi Interview

The Adjustment Bureau

Peter White caught up with director George Nolfi, whose film The Adjustment Bureau is currently in cinemas.

How was it adapting Philip K. Dick’s short story for the screen?

I was taking this story as a jumping-off point. I wanted to tell it in a different tone and I was concerned with different themes. So I could turn the short story on its head thematically. For me the short story is mostly about paranoia and the questions as to what’s real and what’s not real – what’s in the mind. I wanted my character to have the seat behind the curtain. To see what the adjustment bureau are doing – adjusting fate, keeping a person on the path. And that the evidence is so overwhelming to him that he just has to accept it. And then to see how he confronts that… And then the love story wasn’t in the short story at all. So there was a lot to come up with and invent but huge credit to Philip K. Dick who created a story that you could take from and make a dark dystopic science fiction movie.

Was New York important to you as the setting?

Very important. I fell in love with the city when I first went there when I was 9 years old. So it has a personal resonance for me. Also the visual plan for the movie for me was essentially that I wanted to convey the theme of the film with the visuals that if the adjustment bureau controlled the world it would be more perfect, more beautiful, more ordered, more controlled and when they don’t it’s more chaotic, messy and dirty. But if they control the world we don’t have our freedom. So visually I needed to find an environment where I could have beautiful buildings and composed shots and move the camera smoothly in an ordered way but then I also needed when David Norris (the film’s protagonist) breaks through and thwarts their plan for him I needed to be able to have the chaos of the city.

Were you attracted to The Adjustment Bureau because of the questions of fate and free will that it explores?

Definitely. My producer partner pitched the short story to me about 8 years ago – the core of it which I had to use was that of fate personified… whether your life is determined by outside forces or can you actually freely choose the course of your life. I think the answer is both. Of course everyday you make your own little decisions, but if you step back from it can you really control whether you are going to be a footballer or a great violinist… Social class matters, the country you’re born in matters…

There’s great chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt…

I wrote the script for Matt so I was looking for someone who could work with him who could have that great chemistry… and it took a long time. We screen tested probably 8 people and with Emily – 15 seconds into the screen test I knew she was the one. Both on her own terms and with Matt she was magical.

People have described the film as Bourne meets Inception

It’s more like Bourne meets Inception meets It’s a Wonderful Life meets North by Northwest. Bourne meets Inception suggests a tone and there’s very little humour in these movie. So I use the 2 old movies to describe it as they have tones that are a little more fanciful and fun.

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We Love… St Valentine: ‘Jerry Maguire’

We Love... St Valentine

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Get a bottle of Blue Nun, splash yourself with them cheap Christmas smellies your Auntie got you for Christmas, slip on your Penny’s underwear and turn up the stereo with the sweet, sweet sound of Barry White. And hey, if you have a partner that’s an added bonus. Yes, it’s that time of year, when St. Valentine comes to town. So in his honour the film lovers here at Film Ireland present their favourite lurve-themed films.

We’ll be adding to the list in the run-up to the 14th – check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now let’s get it on…

Jerry Maguire

Peter White

Hello, I’m going to share with you my pick o’ the bunch to accompany you at this most romantic of seasons. ‘Tis the season to reacquaint yourself with Jerry Maguire. Not only is it Valentine’s Day, but it’s also Super Bowl time to boot. Of all the films to enjoy right about now, this is the most worthy of a punt.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Jerry Maguire is from a strikingly different time. Golden boy Tom Cruise is in fine form as the titular sports agent while Renée Zellweger is still unknown and utterly adorable as single mother Dorothy. Following his abrupt sacking from a highly successful agency, Jerry and Dorothy go out on their own to try establishing themselves as an independent sports agent with fewer clients, less money and more attention given. Jerry sets out with his sole remaining client, Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. who had a very bright future ahead following his Oscar winning charismatic portrayal. Through all of this change, Jerry is struggling with his own inability to be alone and wondering if his feelings for Dorothy are related to this or perhaps something deeper. While the world may have kept turning on these careers, it’s a joy to sit down and immerse yourself in the timeless perfection of Jerry Maguire.

As far as crowd pleasers go, Jerry Maguire is right up there in the big leagues. The guise of a sports film is enough to hold the attention of your average man while there is ample romance for the ladies as well as the cutest darn kid bursting with useful facts to please everyone. Appropriately, Jerry Maguire boasts how he was sent into living rooms to win over families as a sports agent and the film is equally successful in this department. You can’t help but fall for Cameron Crowe’s charming script which bolsters the natural charisma of the actors and the whole package is lovingly wrapped in a suitably scintillating soundtrack.

Jerry Maguire is one of those rare films in which each person involved is at the top of their game and – bricks posing as mobile phones aside – how well the film has held up over the intervening fifteen years is testament to this fact. For Valentine’s Day when there are so many romantic films vying for your attention it can be difficult to separate the roses from the thorns but I would heartily endorse a date with Jerry Maguire. Or if you’ve already seen it, I’m sure I had you at ‘hello’.

Click here for more We Love…

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We Love… 2010: ‘Easy A’

We Love... 2010
Illustration by Adeline Pericart

We start 2010 by looking back at a few of our favourite films of 2010. Throughout January we’ll be adding to the list. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Easy A

Peter White

When it came to picking my best film of the year I was surprised by just how few really stood out as memorable. There has been plenty which I enjoyed but when I tried to think of films which would live on in the memory come the new year that list quickly became a shadow of its former self. The standout had to be a certain film within a film but I’ve already drooled over that in my review so that leaves me space to muse over my ‘wow I didn’t see that film of my own free will but golly I enjoyed it a whole heck of a bunch’ award winner: Easy A.

Easy A is loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which our charming teen heroine is studying in school. After some unsavoury rumours spread through her school Olive (Emma Stone) finds herself labelled an adulteress, but unlike Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne she enjoys the initial attention and wears her scarlet ‘A’ atop her breast with pride. More akin to Hester’s dilemma, despite Easy A’s mature script and stellar cast is unfairly labelled with the much maligned ‘teen movie’ tag. While that’s fine at first and garners a particular audience for the film upon release, this tag can damage a film’s long-term potential and isolate it from a much wider audience, which Easy A deserves.

Once in a while films do manage to overcome the teen genre to find a wider audience. This is usually as a result of said audience eating too much food and not possessing the energy to change channel during the opening minutes, perhaps supported by a stubborn (but in this case sensible) teenager, and subsequently being glad they didn’t. 10 Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls spring to mind as previously outstanding examples of the genre. These films excel for the same reason that Pixar animation excels – because the writers make them for themselves instead of aiming them at a target audience which they assume is dumber than they are.

I find that the most reliable means to separate the sublime from the ridiculous teen movies is how well the adult roles are written. In Easy A some of the most inspired dialogue is gifted to Olive’s parents (take a bow, Stanley Tucci) and teacher, Thomas Haden Church. That’s not to say that they’re favoured by the material, wit is littered all around town much like Olive’s reputation.

In a year when the most elaborate ideas of fantasy and escapism were to be found in Leinster House instead of your local picture house, Easy A stands out as the year’s most pleasant surprise. An A for ambition in a class of underachievers.

Peter White

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We Love… Christmas: ‘Gremlins’

Santa's Night In

 Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Throughout December we’ll be adding more favourite Christmas films we love; so keep an eye on the website and feel free to add any of your own.


Gremlins

Peter White

‘It was snowing outside, the house was freezing. So I went to try light up the fire… and that’s when I noticed the smell.’ Few cinema moments evoke as strong a sense of Christmas as Phoebe Cates’s childhood story in Gremlins. What it lacks in merriness, it makes up for with a sack full of black humour.

While the gremlins are in full swing on the streets, Billy and Kate take refuge in the ransacked bank. Against a soundtrack of anarchism from outside, an eerie keyboard rendition of ‘Silent Night’ and lit only by the flickering lights of a toppled Christmas tree, Kate recounts her reason for no longer joining in the festive cheer. Thanks to a teaser of Kate’s sensitivity concerning her aversion to Christmas earlier in the film, you cannot help but become completely engrossed along with Billy and Gizmo as the wonderfully horrific story unfolds. Out of context, this story would be tragic in the extreme but following on from the vaudeville bar scene it takes on a kind of surreal comedy. Several cuts to the adorably emotive Gizmo which show his facial expression turn from indifference to confusion to wide-eyed horror further add to the twisted comedy of the scene. The black humour of Gremlins is never more evident than when Kate’s story reaches its climax with the line, ‘And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.’

This scene alone makes Gremlins my festive favourite. As much as we may believe that everyone enjoys this time of year, it’s important to remember Kate’s warning about the less festive among us; ‘While everybody else is opening up their presents, they’re opening up their wrists.’ Wow, that does come across a tad gloomy doesn’t it? I guess you need to see Gremlins in all its gloomy glory to appreciate the sentiment. Or maybe I just need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life again.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good fright.


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