Tag Archives: Michael Stuhlbarg

Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopath

No other film has grown on me quite the way Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopaths has. Initially disarming in expectations versus result, this isn’t just your average black comedy, there’s wonderfully subversive meta-narrative twists and it has something subtly acidic to say about the development and treatment of genre screenplays in the Hollywood of today, which wasn’t the approach I was expecting prior to seeing it for the first time. That and it’s straight up one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Less serious and emotional than McDonough’s masterpiece of a debut In Bruges, the tone here is about as deadpan as it gets, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as Billy and Hans, two LA oddballs who make a living snatching people’s dogs and collecting the reward money later. Inevitably they grab the wrong guy’s dog who just happens to be unhinged gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), sparking a brutally violent wild goose chase all over LA and the surrounding area. It sounds like you know what you’re gonna get, right? Not really, for you see they’re joined by boozy, neurotic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who is trying to pen a script of his own titled ‘7 Psychopaths’, which not only becomes a running joke, but also provides aside vignettes and even heavily influences the plight of our three heroes in the ‘real world.’ Hans is a quiet, compassionate pacifist and Walken plays him against type, very understated. Farrell’s Marty is a hilarious, anxious wreck who orders six beers at noon and tears his hair out both from writer’s block and the unpredictable behaviour of Rockwell’s Billy, who is a blisteringly funny, antagonistic weirdo that should be on medication but has instead been let off the leash for what is probably the best and definitely the funniest performance the actor has ever given. Harrelson plays it loopy as a guy who’ll blow your head off without twitching an eye but bawls like a toddler when no one can find his silly shit-zu for him. They’re joined by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko who don’t have much to do (also a meta joke later on) as well as Zeljiko Ivanek, Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Michael Stuhlburg, Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton, all giving lovely work. Tom Waits is as great as you’d expect Tom Waits to be as ex-serial killer Zachariah, who carries his pet bunny rabbit around and tells harrowing tales from years before. The real hero here is McDonough’s brilliant script, and I love how it ducks the limbo bar of Hollywood writing standards and aims for something just left of left field. Farrell says it best himself when he laments “I don’t want it to be all violence and action though, it should be a set up for an out and out revenge flick and the heroes should just drive off into the desert and talk for the rest of the movie…” then he, Rockwell and Walken do just exactly that, for a time anyways until Harrelson catches up with them and the final confrontation gets skewered by McDonough and his refusal to play it straight too. We need more writers like him in Tinseltown, and although I wasn’t so much a fan of his newest Three Billboards one, Bruges and Psychopaths have already been minted as classics for me, two of the best this century.

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Every few years, if we’re lucky, we get a science fiction movie as good as Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, a cosmic miracle of a film. Built around the ages old trope of aliens invading earth, and even throwing shout outs to sci fi flicks of yore (Robert Zemeckis’s Contact, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day to name a few), it ultimately is completely it’s own thing and there has never been anything quite like it ever before in the genre, or in Big Hollywood. Villeneuve, whether working in crime, thriller or mind-fuck territory, has always proudly broke the mold and blasted new crevices into seemingly charted out tonal territory. It’s only fitting that a SciFi outing from him is something remarkable, and he terraforms the genre to incredible thematic plateaus here. Amy Adams is reliably terrific as a linguistics guru brought in by the government to try and communicate with a mysterious race of extraterrestrials, shadowy beings who have illegally parked their mammoth, monolithic ships systematically all over the globe. What do they want? Why are they her? Tensions rise when the military (Forest Whitaker gives the obligatory general role his trademark brand of implosive compassion) and the CIA (Michael Stuhlburg does paranoia to a turn) butt heads over what to do, while a snarky mathematician (Jeremy Renner, excellent) has his own ideas. Adams develops an inspired way of both understanding these beings via their unique brand of written language and imparting to them our English words, or at least a variation. The scenes inside their ship are so haunting and atmospheric we get the sense this is real footage we’re sneaking a peek at, and the government may bust in and raid our TV room any moment. The beings themselves are a visually intriguing bunch, like dreamy space elephant/whale/spiders who evoke a strange, genuinely alien aura. But time is running out, and if Adams can’t make both their language and intentions clear, the big guns of fear and ignorance threaten to come out and play. The film has an important, uplifting message that communication should always supersede violence, a hard truth but a necessary one. My favourite aspect of this film is its elliptical final act, and anyone who has already seen it knows what I’m talking about. Much of the film, although artistic, is straightforward, but Villeneuve really plumbs the fathoms of human consciousness and pulls forth ideas that not only are rarely explored this maturely onscreen, are also very difficult to understand in linear, analytical fashion. It’s this drive to push his audience, to dole out just as much brain and soul candy as eye candy into our cinematic trick or treat bags that’s the reason he’s such an important, landmark filmmaker, and it’s a joy to see such films take centre stage at the multiplex. With key supporting work from the great Tzi Ma and a ghostly original score by the late maestro Johan Johansson that eerily inhabits the film like an alien force all its own, every individual and element involved combine to give this film something special and rare: a genuine sense of wonder.

-Nate Hill

Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock

I feel like a lot of people were expecting a vast, loosely paced biopic from Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, but what they really got was a tight, sardonic, laser focused and surprisingly emotional look at the relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), during the making of Psycho, and the monumental struggle it took in bringing the now iconic horror film to being. It’s about adjusting your expectations really, and keeping them in check, and you can enjoy what is one of the best films of that year. Meticulously casted with a galaxy of brilliant actors, royally mounted in terms of production design and costume (Oscar shamefully glossed over it in those categories) and written with brittle, whip-crack wit by John J. McLaughlin, it’s a treat for cinema lovers and Hitchcock junkies alike. Anthony Hopkins plays the old goat as a stubborn, eccentric, obtuse man, a filmmakers who is so fascinated by the universal revilement he’s met with upon pitching Psycho that he morbidly just has to see the production through, even if it means friction from all angles including Alma, the studio, the censorship board and everyone in between, not to mention mortgaging his snazzy mansion in the process. It’s an interesting look at one of the most important mile markers in the horror legacy, the dawn of the slasher film and Hollywood’s begrudging shift from camp to lurid exploits in the fright flick, which saw Alfred gleefully starting the snowball effect with Psycho. James D’arcy is uncannily perfect as Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins, Scarlett Johansson captures the virility and charisma of Janet Leigh magnetically, and Jessica Biel does great work as Vera Miles, looking almost unrecognizable. Hitchcock based the character of Norman Bates on famed serial killer Ed Gein, and as such the filmmakers have him appear to Hopkins in ghostly fashion, played grimly and excellently by character actor Michael Wincott, a supernatural stylistic flourish that some hated for its gimmickry but I found a neat, provocative touch. The cast gets deeper with work from Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlburg, Frank Collison and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith as a crusty chairman of the censorship board. Hopkins slithers expertly into the prosthetic makeup and opaque personality of the character, clearly having a mischievous blast and cutting loose from some of the more laconic roles he’s done, it’s one of his most engaging performances. Sure it’s not a grand old biopic of the guy, spanning years and leaping multiple story arcs, but I found the intimate focus on his marriage and Psycho to be deliberate, riveting and well deserving of any audience’s attention, especially for fans of that era of Hollywood. A winner.

-Nate Hill