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

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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

The Best Screenplays of All Time

On Sunday February 22nd at the Oscars, Martin McDonagh will be competing for the Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges.  For me, this was one of the most brilliant scripts in years–darkly comic, heartfelt and compelling, expertly paced and chock full of quotable lines.  Sadly I don’t think it will win–oh, please prove me wrong, Academy–but it made think of all the great scripts from Hollywood’s past.   What films were memorable not just for their imagery, but for the writing as well?  What films contained amazing performances that were great because of the material the performers were given and the dialogue they spoke?

What screenplays are deserving of being considered the best of all time?

Well, here’s this writer’s list:  Continue reading

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