The Postmodern Psychopath

Marty, Billy, and Hans retreat to the desert where they reflect on how the characters in a script called “Seven Psychopaths” probably can’t hide out in a desert for long.

With a whiz-bang name like Seven Psychopaths, and a cast consisting of Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell and (!?) Tom Waits you would think that everything about Martin McDonagh’s (Who made the darkly hilarious In Bruges) second directorial effort would be cut and dried. And you would be as dead wrong as the gangster whose head explodes after getting an arrow through the neck.

Cut to Marty (Colin Farrell), writer, alcoholic Irish genes lampshaded to hell and back, who says “I don’t want my script to be just another psychopath movie” While Marty isn’t aware that he’s tapping on the fourth wall, his thought process is a familiar one shared by many a creative soul who has tried their hand at breaking the mold of action movies. Seven Psychopaths speaks to this issue, a movie about the perils of script writing and how reality rarely resembles anything found in fiction.

Woody Harrelson is here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, but knows a cigar will do in a pinch.

Marty’s two best friends are Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell, and let that last name be a warning) and Hans, (Christopher Walken) two dognappers who probably don’t even qualify as petty crooks. Their usual scheme of abducting then returning rich people’s dogs for the grateful reward hits a snag when they snatch the wrong dog, belonging to a hair trigger gangster with soft spots for canines, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson, large in his actions, but subtle in his words and demeanor)

“Just because I carry around a bunny doesn’t mean I’m not serious”

The usual chase from Charlie’s psychotic rampage however doesn’t ensue, as the movie takes an unexpected detour into self-reflection that both celebrates and takes shots at the very notion that a script called Seven Psychopaths could be anything but a mindless action flick full of clichés and gunplay. Some of these take the form of over the top vignettes, including a sequence where Marty interviews Zacariah Rigsby (Tom Waits, chewing the scenery utilizing nothing but a white rabbit he carries) describing his life as a “Serial killer-killer,” and a nifty story about a Quaker’s revenge (Played by Harry Dean Stanton, looking ancient enough to play chess with Death himself) that turns out to have bigger significance to one of the group.

Harry Dean Stanton may actually BE Death in his spare time.

Seven Psychopaths would be hopelessly out of it’s depth if not for it’s stellar cast, who don’t so much play off each other as represent unique pieces of a puzzle that harmonize perfectly. Sam Rockwell is phenomenal as Marty’s seemingly laid-back muse who proceeds to go bonkers and is unflappable even in the face of Charlie’s rage. He’s so magnetic in his complete disregard for reality that you can’t help but be amazed that Rockwell is not yet an A-list actor.

Walken as Hans brings unexpected humanity and sweetness as a pacifist who suffers a spiritual crisis of sorts and doesn’t smoke weed, but will take Peyote while out in the desert. It’s Walken’s “been there, done that” attitude that makes Hans so watchable, and the film’s heart is at it’s most visible when he’s standing on the edge of the desert and pondering what color heaven is. Woody Harrelson meanwhile is solid gold as he showcases Charlie’s soft side for his dog but also keeping an aura of ruthlessness that makes him such a dangerous character to cross. Psychopath you might ask? well perhaps only in relation to Marty and Hans, but Billy has him beat by a mile in that category.

Sam Rockwell is like a hurricane, touching down with a flourish and proceeding to rattle the shutters of every other character, leaving them thoroughly bewildered at his majesty.

As Marty, Colin Farrell is stuck playing the “Seemingly normal one” who nonetheless achieves a kind of epiphany about fiction vs the real world that makes the performance quietly resonate. As the straight man to Billy’s nutso shenanigans, and Hans’ touching melancholy, he gets the best reactions as well as some of the films quieter moments that distinguish Seven Psychopaths from the films it references. He’s never been further from the dreck that was Total Recall, and Farrell reminds us once again that he’s far more interesting when he’s playing the normal guy, not the guy who thinks he’s the normal guy.

See that sign? It actually says “NO SHOOTING” But then we wouldn’t have a climax, would we?

Behind the postmodern mood of the film however is a push towards genuine sentiment that is addressed whenever violence in the real world is contrasted with the trope-heavy shootouts in Marty’s screenplay. The film’s resolution then is not in a hail of gunfire, but through a story that attempts to show how the violence that we so fetishize in scripts like Seven Psychopaths is archaic and meaningless in real life, but by adding a little humanity in it, something transcendent may be found.

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Elementary episode 3: Far from innocence

This episode see’s Sherlock divulge some of his past baggage.

[Note: I tried to be vague, but if you haven’t watched the 3rd episode, don’t read on or you may spoil a fun reveal]

I have come to expect a particular level of quality from Elementary after only three episodes, but I also find it hard to describe. When Sherlock is doing aerobics with Watson as a way to stave off sleep deprivation, or when he matter-of-factly explains that he used to talk to a marble bust to better hear his thoughts out loud (Though he now favors Watson of course), this is what I usually think of. Like with him burning that violin previously, these moments bring the actor out of the character so that you can better connect with them, and as long as a show provides ample quantities of these, they are good to go.

However, this is the second time where the actual plot of the episode has caught me so off guard that it overshadows even the crazy antics of Holmes and Watson. “Child Predator” pulled a trope that I can’t remember being used since a particularly twisted episode of “Angel,” and implemented it in such a way that I realized it made the entire episode better.

The emotional confrontation between the kidnapper’s victim, (Props to Johnny Simmons, who you may remember as “Young Neil from Scott Pilgrim) and their determination to protect their “Father” was very well done, showcasing a truly terrible instance of Stockholm syndrome, that becomes brilliant in hindsight. Not only did it have logic to it, but it explained inconsistencies that nagged at my mind, and this made the final confrontation between Sherlock and the kidnapper feel like he’d finally found an equal in terms of intellect. Not a “Moriarty” per se, but a dark “Son” whose power of deception fooled even the master deductionist. But only once.

Next week: Sherlock’s been ‘napped and Joan of New York is on the case! For all you Lucy Liu fans, this will be the one to watch;)

The Heart Within The Paradox

Joesph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis discover there’s no easy way to split the check when you’re the same person.

“Looper,” by director Rian Johnson is a modest science fiction story set in a much larger futuristic world that engages on both levels as a mind-twisting tale of dystopic prophecy, and a compelling story of realization and reflection upon the mistakes and choices one makes and how they shape our future. The film sketches out a comprehensive picture of a  crumbling future where the discovery of time travel 30 years from then has given rise to a kind of present day cleaner for the future mobs business, and then proceeds to narrow it’s focus until we see how this rough society shapes and motivates these “Loopers” to rise above it, even though they have to agree to a very specific clause that ensures that their end is a violent one; they are required to kill their future selves when their contract is up.

One such self-terminating assassin is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who lives his life with indifference as he takes out targets from the future with his trademark “blunderbuss” shotgun and saves the silver bars his marks come with for a time when he can leave Kansas city. At night he’s on top of the world along with his fellow Looper Seth (Paul Dano, endearingly hapless with only a touch of the usual over-the-top pride) as they live the decadent life few can afford, but in the remaining time he has a solitary existence as he bides his time until his own Loop arrives and he can get out of the business. But when Old Joe (Bruce Willis) finally arrives, Joe hesitates, and pays the price when his future self gets the drop on him and escapes, putting a target on his head from his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels, laid back, and entertaining blase’ about the mechanics of time travel) and pursued by the head of the elite “Gat Man” Kid Blue (Noah Segan, playing more intense, and ambition-driven, almost pathetically so)

Abe lectures Kid Blue on the importance of killing your future self before he can accidentally kill your grandfather, or something.

The trope of a man fighting and chasing a double would be perfect fodder for any action movie, but those who have seen Johnson’s original debut “Brick” know that simply making a whiz bang futuristic action film is only the tip of the iceberg. When Joe and Old Joe meet up in a cafe the film becomes a character examination, contrasting the actions and history of past and future. “I don’t want to talk about any time travel shit” says Willis, and it’s true, the film is more interested in showing the kind of literal self-reflection that we have often imagined, with young Joe’s self-serving and wet-behind-the-ear attitude a hidden shame of Old Joe’s, while his potential life with all it’s happiness is a frustration to young Joe.

Joe and his Blunderbuss (right) are rarely separated, even when the hot, stylish “Gat” (left) makes herself available.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quietly compelling in the role, which requires makeup that changes his features to more closely resemble Willis’s with a stony brow and a voice inflection that is a striking match for Willis’s haggard growl. We see him as both a morally compromised killer, but also as a kid who seems to be floating through life as if in a dream, living only for the future but seemingly unaware of what that future actually means. It’s his later relationship with a young mother named Sara (Played by Emily Blunt with haunting eyes that disguise staggering will and determination) and her young but inquisitive son Cid (Pierce Gagnon,) that finally cements his desire for something meaningful in the present.

Despite all the futuristic “Gats” and the Looper’s “Blunderbusses,” Sara sticks with the all-American shotgun, and dares you to time travel your way out of of a blast to the face

In addition, Bruce Willis repeats his “12 Monkeys” role and plays a man from the future possessing painful knowledge he must bear, but the nature of his younger selves history give him greater emotional baggage he must face when he comes meets with figures from his past. Though the role requires that he must play to type as a badass anti-hero, it’s his touches of sorrow and determination that stick out in the role, including the aforementioned diner scene where he reflects on his younger self with a kind of amused self-frustration.

The music for the film must also be commended, with composer Nathan Johnson assembling a large variety of both futuristic chase scores and quietly brooding melodies that contrast nicely with the scenes of Loopers disposing of targets. It even features a nicely old fashioned blues tune whose sweet heartbreak nicely underlines Joe’s loneliness and enhances the final powerful images.

“Looper” can be argued as another time travel film whose very mechanics necessitate it will inevitably circle around and bite it’s own narrative when viewers try and unroll it in their heads, but it succeeds thanks to way the film gradually moves away from the time travel shenanigans and to Joe, both past and future. With this the film becomes a rather personally story of a kid without direction who meets a stranger who is a warning to the dangers of living in the future and not the present, and ultimately a lesson that cycles of violence that don’t stop until they’ve looped back around to the source. Or until someone changes it.

Elementary Episode 2: Chekov’s Violin

Sherlock shows his true feelings towards the musical instrument that he’s known for

Episode 2 of the new Sherlock Holmes has rolled out, and like the wire Rube Goldberg contraption that now graces the titles, this new one feels much more together and is a treat to watch. Without going into story details too much, Sherlock continues to mystify and infuriate Watson with his bag of quirks ranging from him hypnotizing himself to prevent outside “natter” from filling up his prodigious brain, to his nonchalant decision to check a coma patients’ status with a needle in the thigh. JLM is still the reason to watch, and his ability to go from low key sleuth to a man possessed of dangerous determination to his quieter moments of self reflection is something most welcome.

All that “lock and key” subtext? Purely coincidental

Even better, Joan Watson comes through and improves as well, keeping a tighter reign on Holmes, and matching his ruthlessness when it comes to needles. (She even lampshades her uneasiness around bodies, which previously felt out of character given she was in medical school) Her central role continues to be that of an outside character who tries to get Sherlock to open up about his past, but Sherlock’s hostile response to her prods draw their relationship into one of deeper understanding, and promise even better conflict in the future.

Final Verdict: Fun and full of neat deductions, the ending is also a trip.