You should, dear listener, go away and read this article (SUNK) . . . before listening to this interview – simply for ‘those who came in late’ kinda reasons….
Films like Lost in La Mancha, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Lost Soul, and The Death of Superman Lives have ostensibly created a new documentary genre that I simply have been devouring … the ‘unmaking of’ movies … great movies that were stillborn, or that died slow miserable deaths on the path to cinematic folklore. And we’ve all heard the film fiasco war stories . . . but not like this. This is the most intriguing because it is still, for the most part…shrouded in a heavy belt of foggy mystery….
The, or one of the embattled figures at the center of this mesmerizing cyclone is a man I’ve longed to chat with since reading the aforementioned article, Mr. Jonathan Lawrence. Now, to get the winter of our discontent outta the way up front, I was certain – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that talking about the ‘FISH’ movie, (as Jonathan enlightened me, or as fate would have it as the movie’s surrogate title) was the last thing he would want to do . . . . AGAIN!
So, while I was certainly keen to devote only a small portion of the conversation to my simmering curiosity (namely EMPIRES OF THE DEEP) – I was more interested to hear the story of the man who was a part of its ill-fated inception….
In singularly one my most engrossing conversations I’ve ever had with a filmmaker – I have really wanted talk to ever since I read about a Chinese billionaire who woke up one day and decided he wanted to make a movie – with the whole story so feverishly well documented in the article back there at the beginning. . . and, Jonathan tells me he has been interviewed extensively for a possible documentary on the subject ……. fingers crossed!!! But, this conversation is not about that ‘FISH’ movie – instead it’s about the man behind it, also a candidate for one of the best lines I’ve heard …. “I know how to be dangerous, and get by.”
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.
How to put this: if none of the classic video games featuring Agent 47 were ever made, and Xavier Gen’s Hitman was a standalone film, it wouldn’t be a half bad little B-movie type actioner, with a few gnarly set pieces and a level of acceptable energy kept up throughout. As a film version of these beloved games, however, it just just crashes and burns. Here’s why: the games were very specific, stealthy and designed to be atmospheric, slow burning tactical missions carefully built upon each other like a precarious house of cards, each mission more complex, difficult and risky than the last. The film? A standard Hollywood-ized action narrative that blatantly ignores every structural piece and character quality of the games. When will they learn? What’s more is, the film would have been unique, something memorable, had they followed the blueprint which the games pioneered, but they always just insist on cheapening the formula with boring old movie tropes instead of revering an already charted course which made the source material popular enough to get a film version green-lit in the first place. Ironic. Anywho, this ones your standard globetrotting cheeseball outing, with a bald Timothy Olyphant doing his best yet coming nowhere close to being a solid 47, stuck in a mucky plot involving corrupt Eastern Europeans, double crossing fellow agents and pursued by a hyped up Dougray Scott as some Interpol bigwig and Robert Knepper as a shady Russian (dat accent tho) secret police dude. 47 is betrayed by his own organization and tossed to the dogs, forced to go rogue and, in the film’s most grave plotting misstep, saddled with babysitting duty to a Slavic damsel in distress (Olga Kurylenko). They seriously just gotta hurl a Bond babe into every flick that remotely resembles a 007 venture, don’t they, which is a major offence when you look at what a ruthlessly mythic, near inhuman creature 47 is in the games, and what a manipulatable chump he becomes when pinned under the yoke of this painfully silly script. The 46 I know would just as soon as bury a bullet in this chick’s head as let her tag along and become a liability, let alone start to develop (cringe) human emotions. Such are the dollar signs in the eyes of studio execs though, and any hope of a faithful adaptation suffers as a result. The few sequences that work, including a hotel escape and a subway car Mano á mano between 47 and his genetically altered fellow killers, just don’t feel remotely inspired by, or in the spirit of the video games. The film has a few muted notes of originality, but any action piece that feels the need to pilfer John Powell’s Bourne Identity score instead of hiring a composer to whip up something fresh just can’t be taken seriously. Big ol’ meh from me, think I’ll rent out a PS2 from the pawn shop and settle in with Hitman: Blood Money again, because this shit doesn’t cut it.
Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is slightly flawed Sci-Fi heaven, a film that could have easily been perfect if it weren’t for a few snags, chief among them being over-length and lack of clear plotting. There’s so much going on in the realm of visual and auditory stimuli though that one can let oneself just get wrapped up in the pure music video style rhythm of it. Speaking of music, the film only really exists to serve the absolute banger of an electronic score from M83, a gorgeous album packed with sonic synths, beautiful thundering beats and celestial interludes complete with angelic vocals from Susanne Sundfor. Kosinski pulled a similar stunt with Tron: Legacy, hiring Daft Punk to whip up a soundtrack that outshines the actual film itself, and while that’s certainly the case with Oblivion as well, there’s much fun to be had in other aspects, particularly visually. Tom Cruise is Jack, steward and caretaker of a small piece of the earth’s surface after an alien ambush forced most of the human race to run off to one of Jupiter’s moons. Collecting data and doing routine scope checks on his sleek hover bike, he’s a curious fellow who begins to see the lapses in logic and believes there’s something else at play other than survival, a notion that his partner (Andrea Riseborough) and dispatch handler Sally (a sly Melissa Leo proves that one can still be effective when skyping in one’s performance). Jack is haunted by visions of a beautifully mysterious girl he’s never met (Olga Kurylenko) and pursued by dangerous surface dwelling scavengers led by Morgan Freeman and Jamie Lannister. The film’s story is a cool one indeed and has a whopper of a twist, but the pacing and exposition just can’t seem to get itself out of a slight muddle and impart these events to us in a clear, unhindered fashion, a kink that no doubt could have been worked out with a little more time spent in the editing room. The aesthetic production design is a wonder, calling to mind everything from Half Life 2 to Portal while retaining it’s own unique, modernized look (I want that glass sky pool/deck so bad). It’s all about that score though folks, and it’s an album for the ages, bringing to life a film that otherwise just wouldn’t have been as memorable.