Is Gone Girl the Greatest or the Worst Hate Story Ever Told?

Gone Girl Rosamund Pike

I’m drinking a glass of wine as I write this review of Gone Girl, as I imagine this is how many fans of the book enjoyed reading Gillian Flynn’s twisted and twisty tale of the worst marriage ever.  I didn’t read the book, so the twists came as genuine surprises to me, and I credit my fellow critics for not really spoiling much in their reviews when the book and film are so damn spoilable.

But the thing you have to know about David Fincher’s film adaptation (spun for the screen from Ms. Flynn’s own hands) is that EVERYTHING about it (okay, and maybe this is a spoiler, so sue me)…is a ruse. Continue reading

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Film within a Film in Seven Psychopaths and Argo

Currently in cinemas across the nation two films take on the old “film within a film” schtick – one going absurd while the other playing it straight.  Both have garnered critical acclaim but only one has seen box office success and is being bandied about with awards buzz.  Seven Psychopaths and Argo couldn’t be more different in style, substance and intent – yet they both hang (and in one case, hang themself) on the central conceit of a film within a film.

First up is Seven Psychopaths.  Boring title and lousy marketing aside, I had high hopes for award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature film as his first, In Bruges, is one of my favorite films from the past five years.  The plot of Seven Psychopaths sounded darkly madcap enough – a hapless bunch of dog thieves (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap the dog of a gangster (Woody Harrelson) and hilarious melee ensues.  Sadly, what might have made a good short-story is trapped amongst other not-so-good stories as one of the friends of these dog-nappers is a struggling, alcoholic writer (Colin Farrell) working on a terrible screenplay called Seven Psychopaths that he intends to use to eschew the typical psychopathic thriller.  We get introduced to these psychopaths as he makes them up and some are more interesting than the rest, though as Walken’s character puts it so succinctly at one point, “It all gets a little tiresome after a while.”  Continue reading

Fargo Voted #51 in Wonders in the Dark’s Top Comedies Poll

Heck D’ya Mean! Fargo only placed 51st?

A few months back I was asked to participate in the Top Comedy Films of All Time polling at the world’s premier independently run film blog, Wonders in the Dark.  While Fargo placed far higher on my own list, it finished 51st in the official polling.  I then had the pleasure of being asked to provide an essay extolling the many virtues of Fargo, which apart from being such an ingenious dark comedy, is one of my personal favorite films – a state of mind I find myself returning to at least once a year.  Apparently I’ll never get enough of those accents.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay –

But it’s those small moments that make it undeniably funny – Marge’s interview of the goofy gum-smacking truck-stop hookers, the idiotic zombified niceness of the cashier at the diner where Jerry convinces his father-in-law to pay a ransom on a kidnapping Jerry arranged, and the complete disinterest of the call girl Carl tries to impress by taking her to the Carlton Celebrity Room to see Jose Feliciano.
 
The Coens also displayed a hilarious knack for sucking the seriousness out of dire situations, like when Jerry tries to comfort his son Scotty after Scotty’s mother is kidnapped and on the back of the kid’s bedroom door is a poster for “The Accordion King” – a fat smiling idiot in the Alps looking down on this hot mess in the Twin Cities.

Click here to read the full essay at Wonders in the Dark and to join the debate about whether Fargo is a comedy at all.

Don’t Mess with Texas or Bernie

And I pray unto thee, Dear Lord Baby Jesus, that Bernie gets what he deserves.

I should preface this review by saying I’m no fan of Jack Black (though I think he sometimes gets an unfair wrap) or Shirley MacLaine (she’s a shrill weird old lady) or Matthew McConaughey (beat your bongos, son).  I like some of director Richard Linklater’s oeuvre – most notably Slacker, Waking Life, Dazed and Confused and the Before Sunrise/Sunset films, but he’s made plenty of duds especially when he tries to go mainstream.  Suffice it to say I didn’t pay any attention when this foursome got together to make Bernie

Yet I started to hear some good things – and the plot sounded interesting enough, and I was really bored one Sunday afternoon.  So there I was enjoying against all odds this tale of an affable busybody East Texas assistant funeral director (Black – nicely method and oddly endearing), the weird mean rich old bitty (MacLaine – well cast) he befriends, and the cocky country District Attorney (McConaughey – always better at comedy than drama and doing a tongue-in-cheek and dip-in-mouth riff on his own propensity to play impassioned lawyers) out to nail Bernie when the crazy lady turns up dead.

I’ve long made the case that the hardest film genre to pull off is the dark comedy.  But there’s a subgenre that’s even harder to pull off – the light dark comedy.  Successfully mixing elements of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune and the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, Linklater is spot-on in his delivery of this true-crime comedy.  Continue reading

Changing of The Guard

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson make for an odd "odd couple" in John Michael McDonagh's The Guard.

 
In the picturesque, green and blustery, west coast Irish hamlet of Connemara, an oddball but endearing local cop (Brendan Gleeson) ends up working a case with a no-nonsense FBI agent (Don Cheadle) after his new partner disappears and some international drug smugglers come to town in The Guard.  It’s the “fish-out-of-water” buddy-cop stuff we’ve seen time and time again, but writer-director John Michael McDonagh attempts to put a new spin on it, just as his brother, Martin McDonagh (who serves as one of the producers here) put a new spin on the hit-man-in-crisis dark comedy a few years earlier in the far superior In Bruges.  I really wanted to like The Guard, but spare for Gleeson’s solid performance, it feels tired, tonally off and forced. Continue reading

People Is Crazy and Chick-fil-A Is Delicious

Seth Rogan tells a fretful Anna Farris, Yes, this role will totally ruin your chances of doing more serious work in the future.

Seth Rogen tells a fretful Anna Farris, "Yes, this role will totally ruin your chances of doing more serious work in the future. But don't worry, you still look really cute."

Every once in a blue moon a mainstream film comes along that makes you ponder:  WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?

Idiotically marketed as some sort of Judd Apatow-style riff on Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe and Report, I am happy to say, is one such film that defies all expectations and leaves you scratching your head, laughing nervously and a little bit shamed.

Referencing films like Taxi Driver, Fight Club, The Dark Knight and Oldboy and featuring one of the craziest soundtracks of recent memory containing songs with titles like “Dwarves Must Die”, Observe and Report arrives on the scene as a funny as hell and criminally insensitive psychological case study detailing the horrifyingly awkward inner workings of a delusional bi-polar mall cop (Seth Rogen) who becomes obsessed with catching a serial flasher in order to impress the smoking hot cosmetics counter girl (Anna Farris). 

The movie, written and directed with bright-eyed cynical aplomb in a no-holds-barred style by Jody Hill left me wondering many things:

Is there a better actress than Anna Farris when it comes to broad low-brow comedy?  I can’t think of another woman who can still manage to be totally adorable while playing such a crudely despicable character.

Is it possible for a mainstream comedy to be more offensive than Bad Santa?

Just how many mall cop movies will be released in 2009?

Amidst a shocking smattering of dark moments, graphic violence, and groan-inducing nudity, the film also features Ray Liotta as sleazy hot-headed detective, Celia Weston as the worst mother of all time, and Michael Pena lisping it up and sounding like a Hispanic version of Tim Meadow’s “Ladies Man” as Rogen’s second fiddle. 

If Observe and Report proves anything, it’s the old adage that People Is Crazy.

But not crazy enough to blow up a Chick-fil-A, because why would anyone want to blow up a Chick-fil-A?  THAT PLACE IS DELICIOUS.

Meanwhile, if you have a sick, twisted sense of humor, this could be your film of the year.

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading”

CAPTION:  We’re laughing at Clooney and McDormand laughing at us laughing at them, see?  Ain’t movies neat?

The Coens Take a Hatchet to their League of Morons, 14 September 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is one of those movies with a farcical and convoluted plot involving idiotic one-up-manship that is essentially an excuse for the filmmakers to poke fun and for their stars to have a great time doing silly bits. Here our zany Brothers return to one of their favorite themes: what happens when simpletons get in way over their heads with a cynical league of morons. Clooney, McDormand, Malcovich, Swinton, and especially Pitt, all whip out their best comedic timing and smarmy facial expressions in this tale of misguided blackmail and bumbling counter-intelligence. Unlike their last two comedic travesties (the barely there Intolerable Cruelty and the wacko Ladykillers), the Coens’ focus is sharper and crueler in this Reading and pointed directly at the government, society, themselves and their audience.

I’ve seen four out of the last five Coen Brothers’ films in crowded theaters where their faithful often laugh out of turn at some of the most unfunny of moments. Burn After Reading has plenty of those moments, as well as some truly funny ones, but one has to wonder why such a talented pair would shoot so low as to desire the elicitation of that “solo” laughter from the loons in the audience that constitute the filmmakers’ personal league of morons. When Clooney’s hardwood floor-loving womanizer unveils his “special project” to McDormand’s plastic-surgery obsessed internet speed dater, it’s a hilarious anti-climax to what had been a long build-up in previous scenes that had the whole crowd groaning and giggling. But isn’t Clooney’s rear-entry sexual-aid device a bit emblematic of how the Coens’ have been treating their audience lately? Later, when Malcovich’s alcoholic ex-CIA analyst literally takes a hatchet to another character, it again elicits uproars, but I couldn’t help but think the Coens’ were symbolically taking out their frustration on the faithful who have been befuddled by their recent offerings. We’re a cynical bunch, and so are the Coens, and whether they see themselves as the simpletons in over their heads and their audience as the league of morons, or vice versa, is never clear.

At least with this slow Burn we don’t have to deal with the pretentious philosophical ruminations of their literary bound and insanely overrated Oscar-winner, No Country for Old Men. While this might not recapture the pure joy of their original dark comedy, Raising Arizona, this star-studded and occasionally hilarious Burn After Reading is the Coen Brothers’ most entertaining film in years, even if we’re all a little more bruised from the wear.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887883/usercomments-75

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Check out my archives for past Coen Brothers’ reviews:

No Country for Old Menhttps://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2007/11/13/a-review-of-the-coen-brothers-no-country-for-old-men/

O Brother, Where Art Thou? :  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/usercomments-616

Fargohttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316

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Are you part of The Coen Brothers’ League of Morons?  Feel free to share your rankings of their films.  Here’s my rankings from best to worst:

Fargo 10/10

Blood Simple 10/10

Miller’s Crossing 9/10

Barton Fink 9/10

Raising Arizona 9/10

O Brother, Where Art Thou? 9/10

The Big Lebowski 8/10

Burn After Reading 7/10

The Man Who Wasn’t There 7/10

No Country for Old Men 6/10

The Hudsucker Proxy 5/10

Intolerable Cruelty 5/10

Ladykillers 5/10

A Review of Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges”

Just when I was about lose faith in film due to the muck and mire currently overstuffing multiplexes and DVD shelves, In Bruges comes along, out of nowhere, to restore my religion.  First-time feature length director/screenwriter Martin McDonagh hasn’t crafted an earth shaking masterpiece, but he has a made a film that has spoken to me personally.  It tells the type of story that I hope to tell as a novelist.  It features sharp writing that I aspire to and smart directing I wish there was more of in Hollywood.  It combines elements from two of my favorite writers: Graham Greene’s religious and deeply psychological study of the criminal mind, and David Mamet’s too cool f-bomb laden verbal sparring.  Finally, it showcases three of my favorite things: trails of blood running down cobblestone streets, beautiful French actresses (Clemence Poesy), and midgets (I mean dwarves).  Why is it I want to visit Bruges now?

CAPTION:  “Oh, remember that guy we killed…IN BRUGES!  Good times, good times.”

“They’re Filming Midgets…”, 16 February 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

…in Bruges. Two Irish hit men (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) are sent into hiding by their British boss (Ralph Fiennes) in Bruges, Belgium after a botched job only to learn that the most damning job awaits one of them just around the corner. Bruges is a picturesque tourist trap built around the oldest and best maintained medieval city in Belgium. Director and screenwriter Martin McDonagh bleeds the setting and the material for all its worth and makes his feature film debut in superb style.

The dark comedy built around the existential quandaries of hit men has been done to death over the years. If last summer’s You Kill Me was the relentlessly dark and relentlessly sitcom-y take on the genre, then In Bruges is the hipster art film take on the theme. McDonagh deserves all the credit in the world for breathing life into the stale story by texturing the tonal shifts with crisp digital camera-work (that is surprisingly haunting), deep character development, and by creating a wonderful sense of place. Imagine a Graham Greene novel (Brighton Rock specifically comes to mind) modernized by David Mamet. The dialog is super smart and wickedly un-PC while the comedy parts are as gut-busting as the crime thriller parts are suspenseful.

McDonagh has also brought together an outstanding cast who thrive in the material. Farrell defies all odds and manages to be as sympathetic in the dramatic parts as he is charmingly sarcastic in the comedic parts. Brendan Gleeson gives a fantastically nuanced portrayal as Farrell’s mentor and friend. Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes channels the scary-as-hell energy he’s used previously in Schindler’s List and the recent Harry Potter films in a limber subversion that is a frighteningly fun to watch. The supporting cast is to die for, with Jordan Prentice spot-on as a coked-up dwarf actor shooting an abhorrent art film on the streets of Bruges, and Clemence Poesy coyly seductive and unforgettable as Farrell’s unlikely local love interest.

Ultimately In Bruges meanders down too many cobblestone paths, and one scene near the end involving a bell tower stretches credibility but adds necessary dramatic effect. Certain plot elements will turn off a large segment of the viewing audience. However, those with the right mindset will be greatly rewarded.  In Bruges is hilarious, contemplative, sometimes scathing, often nihilistic, but marked by a shockingly hopeful undercurrent while tones shift and the colors of the human condition undulate in McDonagh’s insightful light. The arrival of a commanding talent has been heralded…in Bruges.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0780536/usercomments-20