Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

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

Martin McDonough’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Irish writing/directing guru Martin McDonough has pulled a miraculous hat-trick with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a pitch perfect follow up to his other two black dramedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He’s an unbelievable talent who specializes in caustic, vigorously sharp dialogue and comic moments organically drawn from real life situations, not to mention a heap of earned emotional moments and narratives that, try as the viewer might, are impossible to predict. This is a near perfect bookend to the trilogy, with a late career encore turn from Frances Mcdormand, who cements an oddly Coen-esque vibe that’s welcome. She plays Mildred Hays here, a fiery single mother whose frustration and rage at the rape and murder of her teen daughter is fuelled into the purchase of three advertising billboards on the outskirts of town, calling out the Sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and his department for their lack of arrests or convictions. Needless to say, this brazen act causes a hailstorm Of events both funny and sad, strange and mundane, but never boring. Harrelson is a blast of potent poignancy as Chief Willoughby, a stern family man who laconically protests the Billboards, but understands the poor woman’s intentions. His arc is one that leaves you puzzled and tugs at the heartstrings unexpectedly, especially when it comes to his relationship with his beautiful wife (Abbie Cornish, most excellent). Sam Rockwell is the height of hilarity as Dixon, a certifiably nuts, volatile man-child of a deputy who violently takes matters into his own hands and exacerbates the whole deal wonderfully with his antics. Rockwell was a dynamo enough in Seven Psychos, and here he takes that loony persona into the stratosphere, a whirling dervish of bizarre, idiosyncratic wonderment. Other standouts include Peter Dinklage as a love-struck dwarf that everyone refers to as a midget, John Hawkes as Mildred’s troubled ex husband, Lucas Hedges as her traumatized son and Caleb Landry Jones as an oddball local advertising mogul. McDonough’s calling card is his defiant refusal to tell a story in Hollywood’s glossy, surface level terms, deliberately punctuating his tales with vagueness, eccentricity and constant reminders that people, emotions, characters and narratives are complex, weird concepts which are seldom black and white or clear cut in any direction. The arcs here are broad, surprising and beautifully drawn, with the same deep set sadness he brought us In Bruges, accented by the acidic, dysfunctional and cheerfully profane writing that showed up in Seven Psychos. This is a film that ducks the pesky limbo bar of standards set by the Hollywood machine in favour of something more unique, a road less travelled when it comes to comedy dramas, but one that anyone seeking fresh, alive and different material would be much rewarded trekking down. One of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Playing Cowboys and Aliens: An Interview with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg by Kent Hill

 

The dreams we have when we are children don’t often materialize into reality. We make-believe we are the heroes of the books, comic books, films that we hold dear. They inspire us to move forward; to go on and build new worlds. We stand on the shoulders of those giants so that we might become gods – the creators of fantastic realms and legendary heroes. That flame we carry within us during those early years, often falls prey to the winds of change. It is ever whipping across the fabric of our dreams, trying to collapse that once impenetrable shield of our imaginations.

 

Now, there are many who simply let that flame flicker in the wind until it finally sputters out. They put aside childhood wonder and move on. But, then there is the few, the happy few, the small band of us that for whom such a notion is not only unacceptable, but impossible. Our dreams are that which fuels us. Our dreams are our lives. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is one of these dreamers. His childhood games of cowboys and aliens have become so much more than fun and plastic ray-guns. He told me he ‘stumbled’ into the movie business, and the journey to bring Cowboys & Aliens to the big screen was not unlike pushing a boulder up a hill using only your nose.

 

Lucky for us his nose held up, otherwise he might not have been there for the gathering of such illustrious talent, both in front and behind the camera, that would merge to bring Scott’s graphic novel creation to life. With the likes of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steven Spielberg, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and John Favreau, it makes me think of the fabled Dream Team of ’92 that boasted Jordan, Bird and Magic. Combine those ingredients with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the new Bond (Daniel Craig) – along with an impressive supporting cast which featured Dano, Brown, Carradine, Rockwell and Wilde – the live-action treatment Cowboys & Aliens would receive is something of a marvel.

 

I told Scott that my initial viewing had been sullied by a bad day, but subsequently I was able to go back and re-watch it with fresh eyes. I admit that I prefer the extended cut to the theatrical release, but really,  when you break it down, I just really love Cowboys & Aliens and have done so since I read the comic when it first came out. It was a real thrill to finally sit down and chat with its creator, a great gentleman and I feel in some ways a kindred ‘creative’ spirit. For this movie speaks to those out there that of course (A), love a really cool movie but also (B), those creative few, those happy few, that band of dreamers still reaching for the stars. Let the journey of Scott Rosenberg be an example to you. Don’t quit, toughen up your nose and give that boulder hell!

Enjoy…

 

Indie Gems: 13 Moons


It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package. 

-Nate Hill

Mr. Right: A Review by Nate Hill 

As I was watching Mr. Right, I started thinking to myself, this is stupid. It’s absurd and silly. So why does it work so well? The premise isn’t unique or original. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy turns out to be hitman/secret agent. Boy drags girl on mad escapade against some dastardly villains, the bond between them getting stronger in the process. It’s an ages old formula. It sorta kinda worked with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and elsewhere failed miserably with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. So why then does it work so well with Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick? Well, exactly that: It’s Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. The two are so suited for each other it’s adorable. The both of them are quirky, awkward, unconventionally attractive and very unpredictable in their work. Neither are what you’d call traditional romantic leads or action stars, and it’s in that sense that the film finds its groove. I’ve heard other critics bash on Max Landis’s script for being to busy or too stoked on itself, but in a studio system that tosses us garbage like the Kutcher/Heigl version, I’ll take anything I can get that puts in an admirable effort, flaws and all. Anna plays a jilted girl who is on a speeding rebound train that has a chance run in with Mr. Right (Sam Rockwell). He’s charming, super into her and the chemistry they have is obvious right off the bat. Soon they’re being appallingly cute and pretty much dating… that’s where the trouble begins. Rockwell is an infamous assassin on the run from several baddies including his former agency mentor (Tim Roth has even more fun with accents here than he did in The Hateful Eight) who has lost his marbles, and a trio of mafia brats played by a volatile Anson Mount, a hammy James Ransone and a wicked Michael Eklund as that nastiest of the bunch. The film tries hard to balance the two tones, and fpr the most part succeeds, blending them with the helpful notes of craziness from everyone. The violence is brutal, stylized and often darkly comical, the romance is sweet but never gushy with just a hint of mental instability from both parties (sounds weird, I know… it works). Rockwell adds shades of his off the rails work in Seven Psychopaths, albeit with less psychosis. Kendrick is endlessly cute, and endearingly klutzy. Throw in RZA as a hapless killer who can’t decide what side of the fence he’s on, and you’ve got a diverse little cast with enough collective and individual talent to make this a good time. It won’t be for everyone; I can picture many people I know big annoyed, or simply finding themselves unable to buy into it. But for fans of Rockwell and Kendrick (even if you’re not, there’s no scoffing at both their skills) it’s a charming blast of fun. 

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind: A Review By Nate Hill

  

As soon as George Clooney built up enough clout and reputation in the industry to a point where he could make his own projects, he started to send some unique and refreshing stuff down an assembly line that needed some shaking up. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is such a curiosity, but it’s so specific and idiosyncratic that I can barely say what makes it so special. I can go over the plot, performances etc. and give the reader a general idea, but to get it you had to be there. I suppose that’s the case with all movies, this one just sort of has its own frequency that you have to be tuned into. For a square jawed leading man, Clooney sure busted the box open with this directorial effort, as well as a few others, all just as distinctive. A screenplay by Mr. Abstract himself, Charlie Kaufman, helps with making an impression as well. Sam Rockwell, who continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of his generation, plays Chuck Barris. Chuck was the brain child behind numerous gaudy television game shows in the 60’s, including the infamous ‘Dating Game’. Flippant creative output was his brand, but there was another side to him as well, a darker period in which he claimed to be recruited by the CIA to carry out cloak and dagger assassinations. Whether or not this was ever a factual part of his life is murky, but he certainly believes it to be true and has written extensively about it in the novel which Clooney based this on. The film deftly intersperses his life at the television network and the genesis of the programs with his training and eventual missions for the Company. It’s an odd contrast, but when you’re treated with Clooney’s dutiful storytelling and an extremely committed turn from Rockwell, it’s hard not to be drawn into it. Not to mention the supporting cast. Julia Roberts is cast against type as a lethal, sociopathic femme fatale who crosses paths with Barris more than a few times. Rutger Hauer mopes about as a loveable alcoholic operative who covers Barris’s back on a few assignments. Drew Barrymore spruces things up as a ditzy love interest, Michael Cera plays Chuck as a young’in, Clooney himself underplays his CIA handler, letting an epic moustache do the talking, and there’s cameos from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. At one point the film stops dead in its tracks for the funniest performance which hijacks a scene briefly, in the form of Robert John Burke as a maniacal censorship board hyena. Burke pulls the ripcord and delivers roughly 40 seconds of pure comedic genius that I could watch on loop, and is the only moment of its kind in the film. You’d think it’d offset tone, but in a film this organic and quirky, it simply serves as a garnish of hilarity. The whole thing has a Soderbergh feel to it (perhaps due to Clooney), a sharp, crystalline precision to the burnished cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, who previously wowed us with similar work on Blood & Wine, The Usual Suspects and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. His lens captures the melancholy accompanying Barris’s very strange path path in life with moodily lit frames, and pauses for the brilliant moments of absurd black comedy which seem to follow him around like the spooks he was always running from. A film with dual aspects that never tries to prove or disprove Chuck’s claims, but loyally tells the story the way he told it, guided by Clooney all the while. A little stroke of genius. 

Conviction: A Review By Nate Hill

  

Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction is a searing dramatic tale that’s heavily based on true events, and is essentially the underdog story boiled down to its most effective elements, with inspiration running throughout its truly remarkable storyline. Hilary Swank can be a force of nature in her work, and she’s dynamite here as Betty Anne Waters, a small town girl who is very close with her rambunctious sibling Kenny (Sam Rockwell), who grows up as the troublemaker of the two, running afoul of a nasty local police officer (Melissa Leo). When his next door neighbour is found stabbed to death, Leo sees it as her opportunity to get rid him for good, and tampers with evidence, until he is convicted. Guilty until proven innocent is the mantra with this difficult tale, and because it’s based on a true story that happened in real life, it unfolds at a snails pace of tragic events in which a satisfying outcome sometimes just seems out of reach. With Kenny in wrongfully convicted and rotting in prison while his wife and daughters edge towards moving on, Betty does the unthinkable: with no previous experience in college, let alone law, she decides to study for the bar exam, in order to eventually represent Kenny in court, and prove his innocence. It seems like something from a movie, and here we see it, but this is something that really, really happened, which to me is extraordinary and essential to make known. She persists through many obstacles both great and small, and with the help of a dapper senior colleague (Peter Gallagher), and a perky fellow law student (Minnie Driver) she passes the exam and sets out to defend her brother. It’s a rocky road, beset with the decayed and deliberately lost memories of years before, and the police officer’s longstanding belligerence. Unreliable witnesses, uncooperative testimonials and all sorts of stuff get in her way, but Betty ain’t a girl to quit or back down, a character trait which Swank seems to have been born to play, and is the lighthouse which guides this fantastic film along its track. Rockwell exudes burrowing frustration as a man in a position of incomprehensible sadness, hopeful yet resigned to his fate which has been orchestrated by evil, targeting him in wanton cruelty. Painful is the word for him here, and when Rockwell sets out for a mood in his work, you damn well feel it. Juliette Lewis briefly rears her head as a dimbulb witness who plays a part in Betty’s quest, as does Clea Duvall very briefly as another witness who seems to have no idea what she actually saw. Melissa Leo is an actress who is utterly and totally convincing whether she’s on the good or the evil side of the coin, holding the audience in rapturous awe with seemingly little effort. Here she’s so nasty it radiates off the screen, providing a core incentive for Betty’s struggle, whether or not the events actually played out like that. Director Tony Goldwyn is an actor himself and uses that experience to forge a film with respect and sympathy for its two leads. One of the more underrated films of 2010.