TIFF 2012 – Seven Psychopaths Review (Matt Hodgson)

2012 Toronto International Film Festival

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, and Christopher Walken

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Note: I had some concerns during Dredd 3D regarding the large number of seats (225 or so) that had been reserved for VIPs and therefore were withheld from paying customers, but I was happy to see that the higher profile Seven Psychopaths screening had about half that amount reserved. This seemed much more reasonable and respectful to ticket holders.

Last night I was back in line for the second of ten straight nights at the Ryerson theatre for Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight program, which has historically featured some of the most frightening and action-action packed movies currently making the festival circuit rounds. MM is in the business of premiering movies these days, and the first night was no exception. Dredd 3d (previously screened at San Diego Comic Con) started the madness, and definitely delivered plenty of action that gorehounds will lap up. Also, I’m sure MM will fill the horror quota in no time (tonight’s No One Lives perhaps). However, Midnight Madness is not just about the scares and the thrills; every now and then we get a dark comedy. And occassionally the Midnight Madness crowd keep some A-list celebrities up until the wee hours of the morning. Last night was such an occasion, as Martin McDonagh’s new film, Seven Psychopaths, screened with nearly the whole cast in tow. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges, and you’ve heard of Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and a little known actor named Christopher Walken, then you know why the fans were out in droves last night for Seven Psychopaths.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The movie tells the story of Marty (Farrell), a struggling screenwriter who has been working on his new project, also called Seven Psychopaths, for quite some time. He’s got the title, now he just needs all the little bits that go on the paper. To cope with the stress of writer’s block Marty has begun to hit the bottle, nightly and hard. This has lead to a number of misunderstandings between Marty and others due to Marty’s newly discovered propensity to blackout. Thanks to his drinking problem, Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend Kaya (Cornish) may be beyond salvation, but he’s still very lucky to have friend like Billy (Rockwell). When Billy isn’t working with Hans (Walken), stealing dogs then returning them for a reward, he’s trying to help Marty finish his script, maybe even co-write it with him. Unfortunately, thanks to some bad decisions from Billy, Marty finds himself in a midst of gathering of psychopaths, headlined by the blood thirsty Charlie (Harrelson). Marty might not make it out of this psychopath party alive, but on the other hand, maybe he’ll get some real life inspiration for his script. Pro or con, good situation or bad situation – it all depends on his perspective.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Seven Psychopaths is a very difficult movie to review. McDonagh really had his work cut out for him after the critical success of In Bruges. Despite Seven Psychopaths being about an entirely new cast of characters, fans (including myself) will have difficulty evaluating Psychopaths completely independently of McDonagh’s 2008 hit. There are too many similarities: killers with guns, bloody violence, snappy dialogue, and very serious human moments to occasionally ground crazy characters or ridiculous situations. Psychopaths suffers from some inconsistent plotting and dialogue. It opens with a very entertaining Tarantino-like dialogue scene regarding the shooting of eyeballs, but there aren’t many other occasions where the dialogue reaches this high level. Also, the central plot involving the completion of Marty’s script seems anything but important. This zany cast of characters could have found themselves together for any number of reasons and it could have happened with minimal changes to the script. The way it is, it’s really hard to buy into Marty’s writing dilemma when the completion of his script seems like a secondary problem or a side-story at best. Finally, a legitimate side-story about a Vietnamese Psycho may be interesting, but feels incredibly disjointed when viewed in the context of the entire film. Fortunately, the characters and performances are quite good and provide plenty of entertainment throughout the movie.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

If you’re a Colin Farrell fan, then you will probably like him in Psychopaths. Ditto for Walken. However, the real standout of Seven Psychopaths is the absolutely scene stealing performance turned in by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s Billy should be absolutely despicable given that he is nothing but a dog thief, amongst other things, but Rockwell gives the character a charisma that the rest of the cast just can’t match. Rockwell has already proven himself to be a very good actor (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), but after this standout performance in Psychopaths I expect Rockwell’s star to continue to rise. Harrelson also deserves mention as his near-heartless villain with a soft spot for his little Shih Tzu is equally parts unnerving and funny.

I feel quite strongly that the uneven writing in Seven Psychopaths prevented it from being a great movie, but luckily the performances within are quite entertaining, particularly Rockwell’s. It may not be the next In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths may be worth checking out for fans of dark comedies.

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The Hunger Games Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hunger Games (2012)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bently, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.

Written by Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross

Directed by Gary Ross

 

Hello All,

Let me preface this by explaining I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy of books. I want to put that straight up front, because as much of a fan of this film I may be I cannot tell how this will play to someone uninitiated. There are parts of the film that rely heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of the books in the name of streamlining the story a bit to keep it moving at a solid pace. That said I may now proceed to gush over the things they did oh so well.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian alternate future where the nation of Panem is divided into 12 Districts, each of them ruled over by the extremely rich and powerful Capitol. 75 years prior to our setting there were 13 districts that all tried to revolt against the Capitol and failed. As a way of keeping the districts in check and dissuade any ideas of further rebellion, The Hunger Games were created. The Games pit two “tributes”, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district in a fight to the death where only one survivor is to be named victor.  As we open the film it is the 74th Hunger Games and the day of the “Reaping” where the Capitol sends their representatives to pick the two tributes from each district for the games.

Our Heroine is 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), a skilled hunter due to her frequent excursions into the forbidden zone to hunt wild animals to provide food for her mother and sister after the death of her father. Her best friend Gale (Hemsworth) often accompanies Katniss into the forbidden zone to provide for his family. Katniss has her name entered over 20 times for the reaping this year, Gale over 40. Katniss’ younger sister Primrose aka Prim (Willow Shields) has turned 12 and will be entered for the first time, and beyond all odds Prim’s name is the one chosen. Katniss, determined to protect Prim at all costs, volunteers to take her place. In the spot of the male tribute Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), another 16 year old classmate of Katniss’ is chosen. After a brief family visitation they are whisked aboard a train off to the Capital to prepare for the games. Along the way they meet their representative/publicist Effie Trinket (Banks) and former Hunger Games victor from District 12 and their mentor, the constantly drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). Once arriving the tributes are scrubbed down and prepared for their exhibition to the masses of the Capitol. Katniss develops a special relationship with her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz in a role changed drastically from the book) who helps her gain the “sponsors” desperately needed to survive. They are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Tucci, brilliant as usual) on live television the evening before the start of the games where Peeta drops a bombshell. After a tearful goodbye with Cinna, Katniss is thrust into the Games where all the rules are off and she truly is alone, or is she…

Director Ross does an excellent job at keeping a very brisk pace going because there is a lot of ground to cover here. Lawrence is pitch perfect as Katniss, though she looks much older than 16 and knowing this the filmmakers are very savvy to only mention her and Peeta’s age in passing just once allowing for some ambiguity with the viewers. Hemsworth has very little to do, and his character really doesn’t become a major player until the third book anyways, but Thor’s little brother proves he can emote well enough to get the character’s feelings across. Banks, Harrelson, Tucci, Sutherland (as President Snow), Bentley (Seneca Crane) and Toby Jones in a small role that will become much larger in the following films, perform extremely well, especially Tucci and Bentley. Alexander Ludwig comes off strong as the District 2 heavy Cato and Isabelle Furhman is phenomenally creepy and menacing as Clove.

There are some minor missteps, and I do mean minor, with the most glaring coming in the form of Peeta. I’m not sure the fault lies entirely with Hutcherson, as it may also have been the way director Ross had wanted it to be, but the movie Peeta is nowhere as engaging and personable as he is on the page. He is described as a pure charmer in front of a crowd and while we see glimpses of this they are small glimpses only. Also, Peeta’s character losses a lot of dialogue/screen time with the streamlining of the “love triangle” story within the movie, which may have been a factor. However, the decision to streamline this aspect of the story also helps the film tremendously. Also, as expected, some characters from the book and things are left out with the translation to the screen, but this was to be expected.

The biggest concern going in for most was would they play down the violence (they did, but it’s still effective) and ramp up the love story, targeting it directly to the “Twilight” crowd. I am VERY happy to say this is NOT the case. The Hunger Games manages to keep its grit and intensity and does not stray to the sappy melodrama permeated in the Twilight films. And while I have no idea why anybody wants Miss Bella Swan, let alone two suitors, I have no doubt why two males would be determined to win Katniss’ affection, in fact I wonder why there are not more.

In the end The Hunger Games the film is a great success, definitely worth your money. I will be more than happy to pay to see this again. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the first Blockbuster of 2012. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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