Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Seven Psychopaths" (2012) - Movie Review

Every one aspires to pen a similar screenplay like Tarantino after he splashed the screen with odd discussions and cranky mishaps. There is so much obsession in writing for these sociopathic characters. The control and the powerful sarcasm that is like a stand up comedian but with fear peppered on them. These characters are like a drug to a writer. I know I penned my incomplete screenplay which was few pages with nothing but tough guys screaming, yelling and cursing in the most inventive way possible. Only now when I read it back, it sounds terrible. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is not. Not in a million years.

Even when the film begins, it has cameo by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg discussing the oddity of being shot in the eyeball. McDonagh’s film is bound to grow on you once you think about it and then see it again. Telling a story is telling someone else’s version of it which eventually got morphed into a story only resembling the semblance of truth. There is absolute creativity and there is inspiration from the things that happen around you. Marty (Colin Darrell) is a screenwriter who is in dire need of a screenplay. He drinks wine, beer, whisky and everything that has OH in it to bring in something out of the story he is seeing around. It becomes a story telling of a different kind.

“Seven Psychopaths” is everything the formulaic gangster/gritty/bloody/violent film the aspiring film makers begin to provide. It has the simplest things that would not matter to someone becoming the plot prop for bigger events. Here it is a cute little Shih Tzu dog. Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) steal dogs and return it to its owner in few days to get some money out of the deal. Christopher Walken is his accomplice Hans who is the kind old man returning the dog. In Los Angeles where there are high end luxurious pet hotels, this would definitely happen and there is a simple ransom job out here. Billy steals a Shih Tzu of a maniacal mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) that becomes the hunt for these three people and that is the plot in a single line.

If you believe that single line is all it driving this, you might be mistaken terribly. What McDonagh does is that he is spoofing all those films that have this kind of plot but spins it around in a fashion that is silly, clever, dark and in the end very moving. “Seven Psychopaths” has dry moments but comes about with some creative elements that is philosophical and stupid. It becomes the way the characters design the movie to be. I know it does not make much sense but believe me when I say that it is as close in comparison with one of my top ten films “Adaptation”.

To play this film and get these cast is the first perfect job. Getting Farrell, Rockwell, Harrelson and several others to partake in this is one thing but to extract this sort of performance from Christopher Walken is unlike any other. He is a gentle old man and then he has this undercurrent that he can snap any moment. We are in complete accord when he says he is not a man of violence but at the same time are on our toes when he is around these whacky crazy people. He fits in with them and yet he stays in the middle  with a solid head and keeps every one guessing simultaneously. Walken gives one of the most mature performance bringing his experience in this field and using his mannerisms and facial expression into this film. Tom Waits gives an intriguing cameo and be seated after the credits roll for a final impressive scene to finish it.

“Seven Psychopaths” had its dull times which appeared to try too hard and trying to bring the absurdity in the silliest things but when you look back from the end of the story, it makes all the more sense. There is an integrity Martin McDonagh’s script, direction and assembling those have in providing this. It constantly marches on towards an end and even one of the characters is so pumped up to get to the end scene, the shootout. It has become such a fascination in the upcoming films and Rockwell’s character symbolizes it.

McDonagh’s previous film “In Bruges” is another mastery in screenplay and brought odd decency in the darkest places of misdirected souls and concrete ones. He conducted that film with some heavy punctuation and you know that he does not shy away in introducing a complete new character right in the middle of the film and make them dictate the rest of story. The man has a command of his writing and here he appears to let loose but you begin to realize the creativity at its best. He begins the film to be taken over by the character. He performs himself as an actor through this sort of writing which was done immaculately in “Adaptation” and here it is done on a completely different style, still effective.

When the film ends with Walken narrating the Vietnamese character’s story, I was left with an odd sense of satisfaction, unexplained emotion and could not help but laugh at the same time. Here is a Writer and Director who provided a film that is a screenwriter’s dream and director’s aspiration for satisfying themselves but also provided an artistic presentation if you can follow what I am saying. In a film that has so much violence and is glorifying it at certain places also reveres the concept of peace, chaos and most importantly the art of storytelling. A touch of brilliance is evident in this and at the end of writing this, I am more in love with the film than I was while I was watching it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Lawless" (2012) - Movie Review

There is no wonder that John Hillcoat and Nick Cave got attracted to this story of Bondurant brothers who carried out their business of moonshine in the prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia. It has all the characters Hillcoat went for in his “The Proposition”, a violent poem. Yet “Lawless” is like a wrong rhythm for a great song. It times and fail on most of its duration and brings in characters that exist that are purely driven by words in a screenplay. In the process of providing another violent poetry, Hillcoat misses soul in this otherwise good film.

Forrest Bondurant is played by Tom Hardy and if he was muscular giant in “The Dark Knight Rises”, here is a gigantic mass of raw power and ruthlessness here. He is the eldest of the Bondurant reigning the business with his brother Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) the second in command for his muscle. The youngest and who is not built for this trade of violence is Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf). Jack narrates the story of how Forrest believes that he is immortal. For a man of such arrogance in philosophy, he is fairly calm. He splurges power without a shred of hesitation when it is required. They rule hard and Franklin County’s law officers are fine by it. 

In comes Special Deputy Charley Rakes played by Guy Pearce dressed up perfectly but everything about his face is turned to represent a vile creature. He does not seem to have an eyebrow and he parts his hair in the centre (more like he shaved it). To add to the madness is he applies black gel to it. His voice is like snake’s hiss amplified enough to get Heath Ledger’s Joker in the mix as well. As you can see Guy Pearce dedicates himself totally into this devious, vicious and psychopathic man yet the drive for his behaviour leaves you pondering.

Of course the drive is money for both Forrest Bondurant and Charley Rakes but both of them never really appear to spend it. At least Rakes does with his prostitutes and suits but Forrest appear to store it. Jack of course gets tired of being treated like a kid and wants to be up the league yet he does not have the guts to do it. “Lawless” begins with the premise and establishes it that Forrest Bondurant an indestructible man who does not bow down to anyone. His human side has a sliver of a chance when he hires Jessica Chastain’s Maggie, a dancer from Chicago as the waitress for his bar. 

As much as Hillcoat’s films are visceral and gory, there is a character or situation that carries the serenity and peace in this uncivilized world. In “The Proposition”, it was Emily Watson’s character and in “The Road”, it is the son. He has two angelic women at his disposal here with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska and their characters are either too silent or have powerless dialogues. Forrest’s character especially never becomes full. He is as cruel and sick as Charley Rakes but he is the kind who does not start a fight and back out of one either. He would bring hell to the people who wronged him in a way that is beyond unimaginable. The way he goes after the people who slit his throat is one such. That brings to the fact of how he endures throat slits, gun shot and Spanish flu to feel that he is immortal. I would have loved to see that side of perspective in a much more elaborate manner. 

I have to admire Shia LaBeouf for choosing this character as the kid really does want to make a name in the acting department. He plays his character with the childishness and his aspiration to live up to his brother and come above being bullied is the angle Hillcoat goes for that does not have the trajectory it shoots.

Yet the film’s single most display of soul comes through the first elongated burst of violent scene when Charley Rakes beats the crap out of Jack Bondurant. That scene while viewed as something of weakness in the Jack’s character brings out an emotion in us that is beyond just sympathy for the atrocity and gore caused to this helpless individual. We see inhumanity in a fashion that tingles our inner nerves of terror, sensation and empathy all at once. How does John Hillcoat with Nick Cave achieves it is what makes him a director I look forward to direct several films. Not like “Lawless” though.

"Argo" (2012) - Movie Review

“Argo” might be the proof that you can make a predictable uplifting story with same kind of character and integrity. Ben Affleck has proven that he is not one another actor aspiring to be a director. His “Gone, Baby, Gone” still grows on me with an ending that never settles down on the judgment and conscience while his moderate but effective “The Town” carries another sort of tension that comes out of a messy story into a finish that makes peace with itself and audience. “Argo” begins with all the characteristics of predictability. It sets up a story that is bound to be second guessed successfully but provides a feature that comes together in an end that is a well deserved crowd pleaser.

The film happens as the Iranian revolution in 1979 has these American people in the midst of terror. They are hiding from the numerous number of people on the streets of Tehran, Iran who are in the hunt for them. As the situation drags on for more than three months, the six who managed to escape from the American Embassy are literally in house arrest at the kind mercy of Canadian Ambassador. As the White House staff curses and conference among them, they bring in the CIA as consultants. Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck as Jack O’Donnell and Tony Mendez are those. As these were being laid out and carried on, it was nothing but a procedural to get to the actual rescue of these people. “Argo” was becoming the film I have seen and began to appear as something I would be unperturbed, unmoved or definitely be not thrilled. Affleck pulls a rabbit out of this film to alter my view.

Tony Mendez knows that this is a deadlock and the eventuality is that the Islamic Militants would find these people and kill them. Options are discussed which seem to be sensible but the place and time are not good. The conference discussions where Mendez shoots down the crazy ideas one by one, he is challenged whether he has a better idea. He does not. Yet as he watches Planet of the Apes simultaneously with his son on phone, he gets the eureka moment. I like how Affleck downplayed those ecstatic moments and keep the tone sufficiently realistic. At every step of this idea which sounds so ridiculous could be shot down and the sense is real. 

There are few films that gets benefitted by the fact that it is based on true story. There are very few films that uses those in a manner that is not exploitative but creates the sense of the situation. “Argo” is a perfect example of that. This is a day to day job for CIA and the way it is handled resembles one. Very little is made aware of Tony Mendez’s personal life and the little they do bring up in the end is more to close the emotional loop for the audience rather than to benefit to the film. He is a passionate person and his specialty in rescuing people makes more reason for that.

“Argo” has some great supporting cast as the real life rescuing needed as well. John Goodman plays John Chambers, Tony’s in for the Hollywood circle and Alan Arkin plays a fictional Hollywood producer and Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss Jack O’Donnell. All three are the ones that spurt out some great comic lines that is made to appear sufficiently easy but their delivery makes all the difference. Though the film’s pivotal turn into a film that is not alone here to plainly chronicle a formulaic uplifting story comes when Tony has to make a decision to go on with the mission or not. Of course he is going to put his life in line to save these people but these are uncertain situations with not a clean way out and in real life when orders are given, they were executed. That is a best example of a scene that has everything written out for the audience turns into a genuine nail biter. There is not stopping of the film from there on. To build up to that scene is where Affleck paces in a manner that is neither hurried not lackadaisical. As much as the initial set up scenes seems like a ritual, it builds the blocks for the climax that is one of most thrilling scenes I have seen in recent times.

I know many of the people wrote off Affleck as an actor let alone as a director. I know I did not think much of him beyond “Good Will Hunting”. And I was not jaded by the media chaos either but he came back critically with “Hollywoodland” and then before you know it, he unleashes a directorial debut like no other. Here he handles a story that would have been a mediocre presentation of a great rescue attempt into something else. He shows the character of director Clint Eastwood in making the screenplay dictate the story but he adds another touch of his effectivity to this. He knows the balance of pleasing all kinds of audience without compromising on integrity. That is a hard thing to master and he has already twice. Here he does it for the third time.

Monday, October 08, 2012

"Looper" (2012) - Movie Review

The future in “Looper” is how it will be in 30 years. I am quite sure about it. It has the element of realism in a manner that does not happen in recent science fiction films. As majority of them rely on gargantuan buildings and ridiculously high flying objects trafficked in a way that your mind would be mystified, mainly on the effect rather than the actuality. In “Looper”, we see a world which combines that technological advancement along with the things that would resemble the world today, the good, the bad and the worse. It respects the advancement in a futuristic world and the side of it which would continue as in today. It provides a perspective that is so obvious yet so easily neglected in other films.

“Looper” takes on the time travel which is the most desirable feat for several film makers and the one that begins with tons of holes in the screenplay as the concept itself is baffling enough. A film that did a confused justice to that department is Shane Caruth’s “Primer”. Till date I could not gather out the plot line in its entirety despite the fact that I was aided greatly by Wiki’s detailed explanation. Yet I have great admiration for Caruth’s attempt in providing his vision. This is Rian Johnson’s version but more so is a background than becoming the entire film.

In 2044 there exists a clan of men whose sole purpose is to kill someone from future. Time travel does not exist in 2044 but it does in 2074. Easy way to get rid of a body in the future is to eliminate the existence in that time hence porting them to the past and finishing off the disposal. Obviously there are several reasons for the time travel to be illegal and how the mob in future wants to walk over it for their purpose makes it self explanatory and if you think about it, its a clean process. This clan of men are led under Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is sent from future to manage this. The noticeable star in his group is young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Joe has been in this profession sufficiently enough to load up enough silvers (the currency that exists in future), get addicted to a drug that is through eye drops and smoke leisurely. He has set his future.

When the assassins open up their payment from the back of their victim, if it is placed with gold then they have just finished off their loop, meaning killed their future self. Hence they exactly know their life expectancy, enjoy that with fullest extend and end it merrily. Joe in his deepest instinct knows that and when the time comes, he counters his older version trick him. This is played by Bruce Willis. From this point the film takes on a thriller science fiction onto a character development of various angle. Apparently the future Joe has decided to not end of his life for the reasons we come to know and we are made aware of his agenda in 2044. Like anyone, he would like to make his future better.

“Looper” is the film since “Inception” that it deals its audience with respect and maturity. It plays with the time travel paradox and then leaves you spellbound to of course ruminate on the repercussions and logic, yet come out entertained and not cheated. One of the crucial thing in making the audience believe in the future they are portray is to the element of that world becoming a normal event for the characters. Even in that normalcy, they invent something out of the ordinary to push that envelope on the advancement. Look at how the country life and corn fields exist and at the same time the assassins carry the most sophisticated mobile phone. Notice how they introduce the concept of telekinetic power being nothing more than floating a coin and how it manifests into something else to aid the story. Rian Johnson makes it all of this so easy in a script that is so familiar in the world it generates.

Beyond this is the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is time and again proves that he can take roles that would bemuse you and excel in it comfortably. Here he has the most challenging role wherein he has to imbibe the mannerisms of Bruce Willis yet not mimic him. The balance he achieves in this is phenomenal and commendable.  Bruce Willis does his role like he can play it in his sleep. One thing for sure as one of my friends mentioned after the film, never mess with Bruce Willis. Emily Blunt gives another understated performance and makes the characters come together in a stand off that makes you think you have it figured out only to topple it off. Pierce Gagnon as the small boy Cid brings a sort of terror and adorability in a role that needs it at the right time with perfect execution.

“Looper” as much as it takes the film seriously also has fun with it. Jeff Daniels’ Abe discusses with the young Joe on providing information on the friend (Paul Dano) let off his future self to escape which plays an inside joke on Gordon-Levitt’s hipster style and at the same time keeps it grounded on the screenplay. That balance is impeccable and Rian Johnson achieves it effortlessly. I remember seeing Johnson’s debut in “Brick” with Gordon-Levitt as the high school boy investigating a murder in a neo-noir fashion. I was not able to react to the strangeness that film posed. I would love to see it now and can say that would enjoy it more. Then he came up with “The Brothers Bloom” which had a sense of style and execution in a con film that as much resembled Mamet’s movies stood apart in presentation. Here comes “Looper” a science fiction that is so far away from his previous ventures and he has mastered it with perfection. You will of course wonder and wander through plot and the possibilities of the flaws and holes in the logic. You very well might find one but the fact Rian Johnson pulled off time travel film without making it flounder while the film is happening while entertaining his audience and treating them like a grown person is nothing short of brilliance.