Seven Psychopaths


Seven Psychopaths

Colin Farrell wants the Shih Tzu but Sam Rockwell just won’t share.

(2012) Black Comedy (CBS) Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko, Zeljko Ivanek, Gabourey Sidibe, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Pitt, Linda Bright Clay, Long Nguyen, Amanda Warren. Directed by Martin McDonagh

 

Being a writer is tough, and yes, even for the movies. It’s not easy to articulate something from concept to finished screenplay. Sometimes you don’t even begin there – you just have a title and taking it into fruition sometimes can lead to unexpected destinations.

Marty (Farrell) is a screenwriter who is stuck. He’s got a title for his screenplay, “Seven Psychopaths.” He’s got a loose concept – that it’s about seven psychopaths. He’s even got a psychopath to begin with. That just leaves him with six more to go. And a plot. Piece of cake, right?

Yeah right. It’s doubly hard when his girlfriend Kaya (Cornish) is extra-bitchy to him and his best friend Billy Bickle (Rockwell) is getting more loony tunes by the day. Billy and his good friend Hans (Walken) supplement their income by kidnapping dogs from their well-heeled owners and then returning them for the reward money. Hans mostly gives his money to his wife Myra (Clay) who’s in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.

Things turn even weirder as the psychopaths begin making appearances in Marty’s life. From a serial killer of mob killers known in the press as the Jack of Diamonds to a rabbit-carrying nebbish named Zachariah (Waits) who was after rescuing Maggie (Warren) from a sadistic serial-killing judge went on a killing spree of serial killers before getting tired of the violence and leaving her. He regrets that now, and makes Marty promise to put a message to her during the credits, apologizing and begging her to call.

Billy and Hans kidnap Bonny, an adorable Shih Tzu who happens to be owned by psychotic mobster Charlie (Harrelson) who isn’t too pleased at the kidnapping. He loves that little dog more than anything on Earth and will rain a path of destruction from here to perdition to get her back. He sends his right hand Paulo (Ivanek) out looking for her.

More I will not tell you because you’ll miss some of the nuances of the film that you would lose if you had too much foreknowledge of what is coming. McDonagh, who is a veteran Irish playwright, crafts a movie that is quirky without being snarky about it. Too often in independent movies the quirkiness can come off as smug superiority that we’re so much hipper and smarter than everybody else. That’s the arrogance of youth talking.

Here, the quirkiness is true quirkiness – people who are off-center and okay with marching to their own drummer. These are characters that populate most of McDonagh’s work. Farrell, who was so good in McDonagh’s first film In Bruges is just as terrific here – the two are obviously simpatico as both of Farrell’s performances in McDonagh’s films are among his best.

Marty is a bit neurotic and definitely alcoholic although deeply in denial about the latter. It has led directly to his writer’s block and even though he’s a basically nice guy, he’s a bit of a jerk when he’s been drinking. Farrell gives Marty a bit of Irish blarney and charm, with a whole lot of L.A. jadedness. It’s one of those kinds of characters that is Farrell’s bread and butter and he nails it.

Walken though is the main reason to see this. If I were an Academy voter, I’d be nominating him for Best Supporting Actor. This is one of the best – if not the best – performances of his storied career. Hans has a troubled past and has found God but more importantly, serenity. He has changed profoundly and that shows in the patience he shows Marty and particularly Billy.

Rockwell’s Billy is the catalyst who has secrets of his own. Rockwell is one of the most reliable actors out there, almost always delivering an amazing performance be it comedy, drama or something else. Harrelson is also trustworthy; like Rockwell has amazing versatility but seems to do best in roles that have a black humor to them as his does, a mean black-hearted mobster who’s fallen in love with a tiny little dog.

But then again I can’t blame him there. I have a Shih Tzu of my own whom Bonny resembles uncannily and my feelings toward her are not unlike Charlie’s for Bonny, sometimes to the chagrin of my wife. Shih Tzu’s are a particularly loving an adorable breed and I’m very thankful for mine; if she got dog-napped I’d probably go a little crazy.

But then this is a film about crazy. What is crazy really when life itself is completely whacked out? That’s a good question without an easy answer. For my money, crazy is as crazy does and Seven Psychopaths is not crazy funny (it lags in places) but funny enough to be crazy.

REASONS TO GO: Bonny the Shih Tzu is adorable. Walken and Farrell deliver outstanding performances., backed nicely by Harrelson and Rockwell.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the film drags. Stretches believability occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a good deal of violence (some of it bloody and graphic), a whole lot of bad language, a bit of sex and nudity as well as a little bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mickey Rourke was originally cast as Charlie before disagreements with the filmmakers led him to being replaced with Woody Harrelson. During the graveyard scenes the Jack of Diamonds hides behind a grave marked “Rourke.”

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The reviews are mixed but on the strong side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Bruges

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mickey Blue Eyes

Tower Heist


Tower Heist

Ben Stiller brings up the Nutty Professor movies even though it's in Eddie Murphy's contract that nobody mentions them.

(2011) Caper Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Van Wagner. Directed by Brett Ratner

It goes without saying that the new villains in the movies, reflecting our perilous economic times, are financiers. Most of us hold them responsible to a large degree for the woes we find ourselves in. Wall street is the new mad scientist.

Josh Kovacs (Stiller) works as the building manager for one of the most exclusive residences in Manhattan and thus one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. It is the home of the hoi polloi, the high and mighty – the movers and shakers of New York. He heads a staff that is renowned for their attentiveness and attention to detail.

Among the residents in the building one of the most famous is Arthur Shaw (Alda), a man who has managed the portfolios of nations. He is one of the world’s most respected financial minds, someone who understands the markets better than anyone alive. When doorman Lester (Henderson) opens the door for him, there’s just a little bit more deferential treatment for Mr. Shaw who is as down to earth as they come – playing online chess with Josh, who went to the same public school in Astoria that Shaw did.

A sharp-eyed Josh notices, while in security chief Manuel’s (Hernandez) office what appears to be a kidnap attempt on Mr. Shaw. He makes a heroic effort to rescue him only to be clotheslined by an attractive woman, who turns out to be FBI agent Claire Denham (Leoni). It also turns out that the kidnapping is actually Shaw trying to escape arrest. It turns out that Shaw has swindled all of his clients out of the money they gave him to invest and that money is all gone. It turns out that Josh had given the employees of the Tower’s pension fund over to Shaw to manage and that money is all gone too.

This is devastating for some. Charlie (Affleck) the concierge is about to have a baby. Miss Iovenko (Arianda) is studying to pass the bar. Enrique (Pena) just started working there. But it is most devastating for Lester, who was about ready to retire and also had given his life savings – about $70K – to Mr. Shaw to invest and was left with nothing, meaning retirement wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Disconsolate, he attempts to walk out in front of a train and is saved by off-duty police officers.

Josh doesn’t want to believe that his friend Mr. Shaw is a crook, but when he visits him to tell the house-arrested Shaw what has befallen Lester, it becomes clear that Shaw’s friendly man-of-the-people front was a facade. It also becomes just as clear that the money that the employees of the Tower have all been counting on is gone forever. However, Agent Denham lets slip that guys like Shaw always have a cash safety net available for emergencies and that they haven’t found Shaw’s yet. Maybe Josh can steal back what was stolen from he and his associates.

However, Josh isn’t a thief, as Charlie correctly points out. However, Josh knows someone who is – streetwise Slide (Murphy), a career criminal who lives down the street from Josh. Add the recently evicted Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick) and Jamaican maid (and daughter of a safecracker) Odessa (Sidibe) and you’ve got yourself a gang. However can these amateurs make their way past the most sophisticated security system in New York and the ever-watchful eye of the FBI to get themselves a little payback?

It will probably not surprise anyone who sees this movie to know that it shares a writer with the Oceans 11 series. It has that element of camaraderie among thieves, the same kind of snappy dialogue. It does have some star power but after Stiller and Murphy it falls off somewhat, although there are some pretty good performances here.

The main one is Murphy, who after decades of doing forgettable family comedies finally goes back to the kind of role that made him a star, one that channels Axel Foley, Billy Ray Valentine and Reggie Hammond. This is not quite up to those standards, but it is his best role in years. He nails it as well, giving it that fast-talking con-artist veneer as well as that kind of bad boy ladies man that Murphy perfected 20 years ago and that comedians like Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Chris Tucker have all been channeling since then.

Alda, who was playing Hawkeye Pierce in “MASH” at about the same time plays maybe the nastiest villain of his career. Shaw is an arrogant, smug bastard who while obviously modeled on Bernie Madoff has a little bit of Leona Helmsley thrown in for good measure. It’s a delicious role and should go down as one of the most memorable movie villains of 2011.

Stiller is a bit of a cipher. He is likable enough but I think that the part would have been better with someone for whom larcenous behavior might have been more easily acceptable. Stiller seems better suited for characters who need less charisma.

Ratner excels in making mindless entertainment pieces and he does so here. There’s nothing much to think about and veteran moviegoers are for sure going to be able to figure out important plot twists (such as where Shaw’s money is actually hidden) well before the reveals. However, the cast is enormously appealing (the sight of Broderick reaching out of an open window to pull in their loot but afraid to move is one of the better moments in the movie) and the plot easy enough to follow. Don’t try to think too much about some of the plot holes and you’ll find this a pleasant enough movie, not a game changer by any means but a solidly entertaining diversion. Some critics will make it seem like that’s a failure but for my money that’s a big win for the audience.

REASONS TO GO: Fine entertainment. Eddie Murphy returns to form and Alda is a fine villain.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too predictable in the plot points. Nothing really new here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of foul language and a smidge of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Trump Tower in Manhattan was used as the stand-in for the Tower in the film.

HOME OR THEATER: The New York City vistas and the parade segment should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Due Date

New Releases for the Week of November 4, 2011


November 4, 2011

TOWER HEIST

(Universal) Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena. Directed by Brett Ratner

When the staff that work in an exclusive Manhattan apartment tower discover that their pensions have been stolen by a Wall Street billionaire who lives in the penthouse, they’re at first stunned. Some of them have nothing but their pensions to rely on and it appears that the old fraud is going to get away with it. However, the staff have a couple of aces in the hole; intricate knowledge of the tower and a school chum of the concierge who happens to be a professional thief. Even with a full house of FBI agents and security, these amateurs might have the best hand after all.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and sexual content)

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

(New Line) John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Lennon. The two stoner buddies have been apart for six years following their last adventure and have moved off into other circles, other friends. However a mysterious package that arrives at Kumar’s house begins a series of misadventures including the search for the perfect Christmas tree, the return of Neil Patrick Harris from the dead and the shooting of Santa Claus.  It’s quite possible that this movie will be much funnier while on drugs. Then again, most movies are. Besides, any movie with NPH in it is all right by me.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence)

Take Shelter

(Sony Classics) Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker. A quiet family man in the Midwest begins to have terrifying dreams. Terrified of what the dreams may signify, he begins to work obsessively on a storm shelter in his backyard. His odd behavior begins to put a strain on his marriage and puzzles his friends and family who begin to question his sanity, but if he’s right the consequences may be far more dire than a trip to the mental institution.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some language)

New Releases for the Week of November 20, 2009


The Twilight Saga: New Moon

You can bet there are more of these soulful looks where this one came from.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Dakota Fanning, Rachelle Lefevre, Michael Sheen, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli. Directed by Chris Weitz

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware of the hype surrounding the second installment of the wildly successful juvenile vampire series by Stephenie Meyers. Here, soulful vampire Edward Cullen decides to leave his true love Bella in order to protect her from the dangers of the world of the undead, but in leaving her may inadvertantly expose her to even more danger. It will become up to her friend Jacob Black to protect her, but he harbors a secret of his own – and Jacob and Bella find an attraction happening that goes beyond friendship. Expect long lines of frenzied teen, pre-teen and post-teen girls this week.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and action)

The Blind Side

(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, Quinton Aaron. From director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) comes another true sports story about a homeless African-American boy who is taken in by a well-to-do white family and finds his life transformed at the same time transforming the lives of his new family. He goes on to become All-American football star Michael Oher.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references)

Coco Before Chanel

(Sony Classics) Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain. Before she was one of the most influential names in fashion, Coco Chanel was an orphan who took an extraordinary journey to become the woman whose name became synonymous with modern fashion. Tautou gives an acclaimed performance in the title role.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)

Planet 51

(Tri-Star) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman. The most recent entry into the animated feature sweepstakes is about an astronaut who lands on a new, earth-like planet – and finds it isn’t deserted. Now he must race against time in a xenophobic culture who wants to make him a permanent part of their Alien Invaders Museum to make it back to his command module before it is automatically recalled home without him.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor)

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

(Lionsgate) Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey. A young woman in Harlem circa 1987 overcomes adversity, parental abuse and an indifferent system to try and make something of herself. With a spirit that refuses to give up, and with the help of a precious few sympathetic souls, Precious triumphs over a world that has given her nothing but obstacles. This movie set a box office record for a single weekend opening in less than 100 theaters; now it is opening wide and is getting serious buzz for Oscar season.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language)