Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 15): I've Seen This Movie Before and I'll See It Again

It's tough to get my friend Jim out to see a movie. Don't get me wrong, he loves movies, but he loves them much more OFNF - On Flatscreen Near Fridge. He's the nightmare scenario personified for box office ticket sales; a patient man with a home theater. The last movie I drew him out for was Seven Psychopaths, and as luck would have it, it's on The Unreasonable Movie Project list. I asked Jim if he would see it again with me and help evaluate this BAFTA Outstanding British Film of the Year nominee, and with a DVD copy at his place, that's just what we did.

Jim was also going to help me with Looper, because there are a ton of similarities between these movies:
  • I've seen them both already
  • For each, the director was also the screen writer
  • Both have excellent screenplays, with well-developed characters
  • Both have violent action

Unfortunately the universe conspired against us and we weren't able to schedule a viewing for Looper, maybe because Jim had never seen it (thus not fulfilling the first similarity - I think I asked him to see it with me when it came out, but he dug in like a tick). Oh well, I'm pretty sure Jim is biased against Bruce Willis anyway, and I can't tolerate that. The man has done no wrong for me since Moonlighting.  I would be on my own for Looper.

When we first saw Seven Psychopaths, we were entertained and confused, and we agreed on that before watching it a second time. We also talked about the possibility that the movie might be about writer's block (I'll explain later), which led to an argument about The Shining, and whether that movie was entirely about writer's block (Jim's assertion), or if it had some supernatural element to it (my feeling). Then we starting talking about Shelley Duvall, who played Jack Nicholson's wife, and what a weird-looking person she is, which forced us to create a written list of other weird-looking women (Martha Plimpton, Sara Gilbert, Juliette Lewis, etc.). What use this list would be to us later on was unclear. Then, just because, Jim felt he had to show me several YouTube videos involving Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker (warning: Kai loves the profanity). 

We still had not started the movie.

Having wasted our chance for constructive preparation, and armed only with the hope that the movie would become more clear on a second viewing...we finally began. Our first job was to actually map all seven psychopaths. The movie begins by introducing us to all seven, and we felt it was hard to keep track in the theater. With some revision, this was the list:
  1. The Jack of Diamonds (Sam Rockwell)
  2. The Quaker who avenges his daughter's murder (Christopher Walken)
  3. The Mobster who loses his dog (Woody Harrelson)
  4. The Vietnamese Buddhist
  5. Maggie, serial killer of serial killers, one-time wife of...
  6. Zachariah (Tom Waits), serial killer of serial killers, one-time husband of Maggie
  7. Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell)

"The math is all messed up!" Jim said, once we realized that Sam Rockwell is both Psychopath #1 and #7. Jim had previously commented that, in general, seven psychopaths is six too many, but with this new information, he thought maybe six was one too few. Our goal of becoming less confused was headed in the wrong direction, but after properly noting and appreciating the Taxi Driver reference (Rockwell's last name is Bickle; he talks to himself in a mirror), on we watched. Gold star for us.

We were definitely entertained by viewing #2. Much like his excellent first movie In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh creates very snappy dialogue, and even though the screenplay stirs up a lot of blood and guts, both real and imagined, it's basically a comic character study. The three protagonists are very interesting people, and are well-acted by Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken. Given that all three actors are capable of being spectacular, each scene is really satisfying. They have a good rhythm together. 

The problem lies in stringing the story together - it still didn't make a lot of sense. Jim thought that the entire movie might be some sort of dream sequence, all in the head of Marty (Farrell), the struggling screenwriter. Marty and Billy (Rockwell), the under-employed actor and freelance dog-napper, are constantly talking about the script Marty is trying to write (called "Seven Psychopaths"), so between the actual occurrences of the movie, the talk of Marty's screenplay, and the imagined scenes of said screenplay, calling it a dream would be a charitable way to let McDonagh off the hook. Even though he tries to end it in a very grand (and very cliché) shootout and moral lesson, it's a mess.

Hans (Walken) sums it up at the end of the movie by saying to Marty, "You're the one who thought psychopaths were so interesting...they kind of get tiresome after awhile, don't you think?" Eventually, yes, we did, but because of exchanges like this (Jim's favorite), I'm still giving Seven Psychopaths a $7.00. 

Rian Johnson, writer/director of Looper, can also create a well-written script. His movie plot has some holes in it too, but that's because the story involves time travel, which can never be completely logical. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2013 Writers Guild Awards (February 17), Looper is more of a traditional action movie, but has a much tighter script than Seven Psychopaths.

The short version of the plot summary is this: The year is 2044, and time travel hasn't been invented yet, but by 2074 it has. A group of young criminals, called loopers, are hired by a future criminal organization to kill people who are being sent from 2074 back to 2044. Evidently disposing of dead bodies is impossible in the future because of ID tracking, so the loopers make them disappear in the past.

The main character is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and made up to look like a young Bruce Willis, who plays older Joe. When young Joe is sent the older version of himself to kill, he hesitates, and older Joe escapes. Pandemonium ensues (future people running around in the past is 'bad,' we're told in a nonspecific way). Older Joe believes that if he can track down the head of the 2074 criminal organization and kill him as a child in the past, he will be placed back in the future with his beloved wife.

Willis is trying to track down and kill a kid, young Joe is trying to kill him to make up for his mistake, and the criminal organization that employs the loopers is trying to kill them both. Thankfully the writing provides a framework for it all. It's very inventive, at one point using scars to communicate messages to the future. And when the young and old Joe meet face to face, the young Joe says "Your face looks backward." Little flourishes like that make it a very smart screenplay. How can you not be intrigued by the only movie you'll ever see where Bruce Willis shoots someone and then breaks down and cries?

I have to sound the Stuhlbarg Syndrome Alert again (actor appears in more than 1 movie in a given year). Emily Blunt appears in this movie too, and actually gets to flex her dramatic muscles much more here than she does in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Playing the mother of the future criminal mastermind, she will stop at nothing to protect her son. She knows the older Joe is coming for him, but she's not quite sure if she can trust the young Joe to help her stop him. She has to be tough in a tough world, but she's barely keeping it together. Blunt is just one more reason this is one of the best action movies in years. I'm giving Looper an $8.00.

How is it that Blunt can pull off the American accent so well? Why are English and Australian actors so good at this, and American actors are so bad? In every source I can find online, there are arguments as to whether Americans such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, and Meryl Streep actually have good British accents, or are merely passable. The only group I can find that are universally hailed as Americans having great British accents are, you guessed it, the guys from Spinal Tap. Congrats all you American thespians [sarcasm], you've set the bar at...11?

Unsolicited Valentine's Day Tip from The Unreasonable Movie Project to all the guys out there: Since we all love Bruce Willis (in a masculine kind of way), don't forget to take your sweetie to the new Die Hard: A Good Day to Die Hard this Thursday. It's better than jewelry. She'll love it!



1 comment:

  1. I like this "Jim" character. He seems fun — yet a little stubborn. I'm intrigued. :)

    Also, I'm going to see Die Hard at the IMAX with my roommate. It should be a lovely time.

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