F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 10, 2017)

10 08 2017

Adaptation” it most certainly is not, but Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” makes for a most entertaining meta-movie. This specific genre derives its pleasures by baking the creation of the movie into the very fabric of the story itself; the fact that everything was narrativized is not merely a fact slapped on at the conclusion. Some artists smuggle these meta-movies into existence under the guise of something like a heist flick (Christopher Nolan’s “Inception“) or a con artist caper (Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom“), though many in their purest form simply revolve around filmmakers struggling to create.

That’s the case for McDonagh’s meta-movie, my choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” In many ways, “Seven Psychopaths” feels like a self-interrogation (perhaps after surveying his prior film “In Bruges”). His leading man, Colin Farrell’s Marty, is a screenwriter struggling to pen his latest script conveniently titled – you guessed it – “Seven Psychopaths.” As he drolly puts it, “I’ve got the title, just not the psychopaths.”

Marty wants to write a film about violent people without succumbing the soul-sucking carnage that plagues many films about such subjects. He wants it all to mean something, not just become a violent shoot-’em-up. Ultimately, Marty gets more than he bargained for when a friend draws him into a Los Angeles gang dispute over … a Shih Tzu. The anodyne object of conflict points out the inherent absurdity of the criminal underworld without fully discounting the grotesqueness of their deeds.

I first watched “Seven Psychopaths” on video in 2013 and found myself rather unenthused by it. (The original grade I bestowed upon it was a C.) With McDonagh’s next directorial outing “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” about to make landfall on the film festival circuit, something compelled me to give it a second chance – and judging by its inclusion in this column, you can assume I’m glad I did. McDonagh grants us a dryly humorous window into the writing process, which also means clueing us into his knowledge of audience expectations for what’s to come. This feat is a tricky one to pull off without drowning in self-awareness, and he does it with a good amount of dexterity.

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REVIEW: To the Wonder

8 02 2015

To the Wonder” is probably the most Malickian (is that the right word – or would it be Malicky?) film that Terrence Malick has directed to date.  And that is not necessarily a good thing.

Like Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, Malick’s stylistic hallmarks have transcended merely serving their story.  They are a recognizable brand.  Malick is so avant-garde and experimental, however, that his brand lacks a lot of commercial appeal.  (Though plenty of young filmmakers shamelessly try to imitate him.)

“To the Wonder” plays like a guide to make a Malick movie, rote and rather passionless.  It boils down what makes him distinct as a director into a series of clichés.  The film documents scenes from a love triangle (as portrayed by Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, and Rachel McAdams) as well as a few from a Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) that crosses their path at some point.  As usual with Malick, the engine moving everything forward is the philosophical and existential musings spewed by multiple narrators rather than a traditional “plot.”

Having voiceover from more than one person is not a problem, but “To the Wonder” stumbles by not firmly deciding on a main character or protagonist.  The film does not just feel unfocused; it feels remarkably undisciplined.  By not providing an entry point to the proceedings, Malick leaves his audience in a position on the outside looking in.

Granted, simply observing the film could be worse since “To the Wonder” is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer behind iconoclastic films ranging from “The Tree of Life” to “Gravity” and “Birdman.”  While Lubezki hardly breaks boundaries or explores bold new territory here, even watching him on autopilot proves fascinating.  His technical proficiency combined with Malick’s eye for the beauty of nature makes for quite the dynamic duo.  They could even make a Sonic drive-in look magical – and in “To the Wonder,” they do just that.  C+2stars