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Seven Psychopaths

Seven-PsychopathsNot since 2010’s “The Guard” have I had this much fun in the cinema. Martin McDonagh returns to the screen with his first film since 2008’s “In Bruges”, also starring Colin Farrell as a hit-man laying low in Bruges with Brendan Gleeson. His latest film certainly equals the standards raised at the last toll; it’s a bloody, violent, stylish and absolutely hilarious film pitting some fine talents such as Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson together in a brutal game of cat-in-mouse in a style echoing the dark humour of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and the sharp, witty dialogue of Tarantino’s masterpiece “Pulp Fiction”.

Marty (Colin Farrell) is an Irish writer living in LA struggling to start his new screenplay titled “Seven Psychopaths”. He hasn’t even got beyond “Psychopath No. 1” and already his drinking problem is spiralling out of control. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is a slightly unhinged and failed actor who makes a living from kidnapping dogs and sending his partner-in-crime Hans (Christopher Walken) to the owner’s house to retrieve the money in award for ‘finding’ their beloved pet. Billy tries to help Marty by placing an ad in the newspaper calling on all psychopaths to come to Marty’s house to be interviewed for the chance of their story appearing in his screenplay. But it soon becomes apparent that Marty will not need to rely on the ad to bring the psychopaths in, because when Billy and Hans kidnap the Shih Tzu belonging to a sadistic gangster (Woody Harrelson) and Marty gets sucked into the mess, by the end of it all – if he is still alive that is – he’ll have one hell of a story to write.

“In Bruges” was pretty successful when it was released back in 2008, and “Seven Psychopaths” serves to be the long-awaited follow-up to that film from Martin McDonagh. While I’m undecided on which is the better film, “Seven Psychopaths” certainly lives up to the lofty standards set by “In Bruges” in terms of humour, sharp and witty dialogue and pure mayhem. Sam Rockwell (“The Green Mile”, “Choke”) is arguably the star of the film. His extroverted performance as the unhinged Billy is very enjoyable to watch; it’s a well composed and characteristic. Colin Farrell (“Tigerland”, “In Bruges”) looks somewhat lost at times, but it’s fitting for his character – an alcoholic writer with writer’s block. Rockwell’s Irish jokes and impersonation were surprisingly very good, unlike the vast majority of the kicks Hollywood tries to make at the Irish culture and accent. Christopher Walken (“The Deer Hunter”, “Biloxi Blues”) has always stolen the show, and it’s no exception here. His character Hans, is very interesting, and Walken proves he was the perfect man to cast in this role. Woody Harrelson is personally one of my all-time favourite actors, if for nothing more than his psychotic look and domineering presence on screen. Ever since his lead role in the amazing “Natural Born Killers”, Harrelson has set his own standards and met them ever since. He’s superb in this film. Very funny and completely psychotic. The dialogue, brutal dark humour and witty one-liners have to be the best thing about the film alongside the exceptional performances from a superbly assembled cast (Which also includes singer Tom Waits).

“Seven Psychopaths” is one of the best films of 2012. The criss-crossing storyline imitates the best of Tarantino and has a very strong odour of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, which McDonagh’s latest effort is slightly better than in my opinion. An absolutely enjoyable film that literally cuts your throat while you’re laughing; the violence is gorgeously bloody at times – stylized yet realistic. Hopefully McDonagh comes out in the next round with an equally superb, if not better, film.

– Joe Callan

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The Heart of Darkness of Apocalypse Now

apocalypsenow235“My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam. The way we made it is the way Americans were in Vietnam. We had too much money, too much equipment and little by little we went insane.”  – Francis Ford Coppola

Four years in the making, and literally almost the death of some of those involved, “Apocalypse Now” remains today one of the most ground-breaking, surreal and audacious films ever made. Using the Vietnam War as a backdrop to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, the film won two Oscars and has been cited ever since as one of the greatest achievements in the history of filmmaking. The work put into “Apocalypse Now”, and the troubles and freak occurrences behind the production, were exceptional and to read about them would lead one to wonder how the film was ever even made.

Capturing the insanity and the ‘heart of darkness’ of Conrad’s tale, ingeniously employing the Vietnam War as a backdrop to this phenomenal text, “Apocalypse Now” is a relentlessly dark and horrifying film. As beautiful as it is violent, it balances the darkness and the light well until the final part when the darkness completely takes over. It is a satirical view of the Vietnam War in one sense; as it portrays the futility of the war in the form of abandoned outposts along the Nung River, where undisciplined soldiers have descended into savagery. Coppola’s masterpiece is laced with so many layers of symbolism that it takes quite a number of viewings in order to appreciate everything that unfolds on the screen. And to learn about the background and the production of the film will also contribute to one appreciating everything that “Apocalypse Now” is. Nothing was ever quite achieved like it before, nor has anything like it been achieved since. It is one of the most surreal, captivating and beautifully worked films of all time.

Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), is a US Army Special Forces Officer, rendered to float in drunken limbo in Saigon until his next mission is handed down to him by intelligence. Willard is briefed by his superiors on a Col. Walter. E. Kurtz – a highly decorated Green Beret turned renegade who has gone “insane” and is operating from within the jungles of Cambodia with the tribes who he has asserted himself as a god-like figure over. Willard is instructed to travel up the Nung River on a Navy patrol boat, to locate the Colonel, and to terminate his command. “Terminate with extreme prejudice.” Willard’s journey up river into Cambodia is a metaphor for the journey into the dark heart of man, concealed by a thin surface crust portraying the madness of war. Along the way, he and his Navy crew are escorted by a manic Colonel (Robert Duvall in an infamous performance) and his squadron of gung-ho attack helicopters. They arrive at isolated and ravished US outposts amidst constant threat all while the men become restless and wary of Willard’s classified mission. Willard himself is confused, as the more he reads into the records and biography of the man he is to murder, the more he questions the mission and the ever-increasing ambiguity of what exactly constitutes murder and insanity in a place like this.

One only has to watch the 1991 documentary “Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” to a get a sense of just how close this movie came to not being made, scrapped, or destroyed. Filming began in 1974, and didn’t end until sometime 1979. The editing of the 200 hour film was what took up most of that time, as one can probably imagine. Essentially, “Apocalypse Now” almost destroyed Francis Ford Coppola’s career, and his life. Millions of dollars over-budget before filming even commenced, Coppola had to invest his own personal fortune into the film. He contemplated suicide after a barrage of mishaps and when it looked as though the studio was considering just abandoning them all out in the jungle. Marlon Brando was a huge problem; he was depressed, overweight, and couldn’t remember his lines and argued everyday with Coppola over the dialogue. Martin Sheen was called in to take the role after it was determined that Harvey Keitel wasn’t going to hack it. Sheen, however, was a raging alcoholic at this time and suffered a heart attack shortly after filming began. Dennis Hopper was off his head on drugs for the majority of the shooting, and the undisciplined motley crew of props men, stunts men and other assorted film crew were running up the bill and causing havoc, and then to top it all off – a real war broke out nearby. The troops of the Philippines army had to be withdrawn from the set where they were being used as extras to take-down some rebels on a nearby island. The local police were called to the set after a crazy prop’s man managed to get his hands on some real dead bodies from a grave-digger to use on set to help create a better atmosphere, and the filmmaker’s passports were confiscated as a result.

And finally, after everything was filmed – some guy goes crazy in the editing department and takes the film reels hostage in a locked room for a few hours and threatens to burn them, until he is talked out of it. The making of “Apocalypse Now” may be classified as a circus, but it is undeniably one of the most inspirational filmmaking tales of all time. By hauling his 900 crew and cast out into the jungle into uncertainty, Coppola inadvertently managed to create the very thing that he was attempting to portray – insanity, and the duality of men.

Friday the 13th – A Blatant Rip-off Of A Far More Superior Work?

Hailed as one of the most iconic horror films ever made, and being the zygote that spawned the iconic hockey mask wearing Jason Voorhees, “Friday the 13th” (1980) is possibly one of the worst horror films that I’ve seen. Not only is it a blatant rip-off of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (I think the script writer himself admitted that he wrote this to cash in on the Michael Myer’s craze) it also has aged very badly and is extremely dull and unbelievably boring. It doesn’t come anywhere near to matching the knuckle-biting, chair-gripping suspense of “Halloween”, and nor does it have anything on the crazy, nihilistic atmosphere as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. And also, it lacks the style and horror of the later film from Wes Craven, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. I could go on, but I won’t. The films I just mentioned there are other considered classics; “Friday the 13th” is not of their calibre. It has as much the right as being ranked up there with them horror greats as “Gremlins” does. Directed by Sean Cunningham who had before this helped produce Wes Craven’s controversial debut “The Last House on the Left”; I thought that after having experience working on such a nasty and violent film like that, that Cunningham would have done the same with his own slasher. But instead what he did was kept the violence at a minimum and just spent the whole film watching the teenagers from the killers perspective as it roams around the forest stalking them. Nice idea Sean, but it had been done already in “Halloween” no more than three years before you! There are some nice gory and violent killings at the beginning, thanks to some smart editing, but as the film progresses, it rapidly runs out of steam because the murders get less and less violent.

I think everyone knows the plot at this stage. Camp Crystal Lake has been closed for years, but it’s having a re-opening during the summer and the camps counsellors are working hard to have the place in good condition for the summer months. They’ve been warned by the town looney from down the road that they are all going to die because the place is cursed. But as usual, the guy is crazy, so why heed his warning? What these teenagers weren’t told is that back in the late 50’s, a young boy named Jason drowned in the lake because the counsellors were too busy having sex to notice and help him. The events in the film take place over one night, as an unknown assailant stalks and murders each one of the counsellors…

Well, I don’t want to spoil this movie so I’ll refrain from saying what it is I want to say, the thing that disappointed me the most – and I think anyone who has the seen the film will know what I’m talking about as it has something to do with the killer… or for lack of a better phrase, who ‘isn’t’ doing the killings. I’ve probably said too much there, but ah well. When poor little Victor Miller wrote the script for this film, he had no idea that Cunningham would get carried away and turn the film into the mad franchise that it is today – it’s even bigger than the Freddy Krueger and the “Halloween” franchises with a grand total of nine sequels (For a while there I thought that “Saw” was gunning to either match or over-jump this record). Add that with a cross-over with Freddy in 2003, and of course, an inevitable remake. A very young Kevin Bacon from “Footloose” stars in one of his very first roles. The acting is atrocious, but I don’t blame the actors for their lousy dialogue and whatever, because the script was just horrendous from Miller. It shows no merit, no innovation, and most of all, it shows no ‘talent’ whatsoever and this could have easily just passed off as some amateur’s low-grade feature. Had it not spawned such a huge franchise, I may have looked upon this film differently but you can’t help going into it with high expectations when it has generated the reputation that it has had over the years. The ending, I have to say, is very frightening, but apart from that, I hated everything about the film; from its ridiculous opening credits with the logo crashing through class, right down to the twists and turns and the despicable characters. To say that the only interesting parts in the film are when someone gets brained with an axe or their throat cut makes me sound psychotic, but also just goes to show how dull the film really is.

Joe Callan

The Irish Film Industry Needs an Injection of Fresh Enthusiasm

There can be little doubt about it that when compared to our British neighbours, our film industry is pretty far down the pecking order. Ireland as a nation has traditionally been renowned for the arts over the decades, particularly with the likes of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats and Bram Stoker hailing from these shores. But when it comes to the film industry, we are inconsistent and somewhat incompetent.

Roddy Doyle’s “The Commitments”, released in 1990, certainly put us on the map as the film was a hit over in the States. And for a while, it was looking good for us. “The Commitments” shattered any foreign delusion that Ireland was a place full of beautiful valleys, white horses, cottages and fighting leprechauns. Abandoning us in the dark-heart of recession-crippled 80’s Dublin, and riddling us with a dose of Doyle’s realism and dark comedy, the film was an instant success and gained world-wide attention for show-casting some of the most poverty-striken areas of Dublin at the time in all their bitter glory. Doyle penned two sequels to complete what would become known as “The Barrytown Trilogy”, and they were adapted into lesser sequels which proved to be successful at home, but abroad, they are virtually unheard of. And this is partially 20th Century Fox’s fault, as they owned the rights to “The Commitments”, which also meant that the family name Rabbitte was subject to copy-right. Subsequently, in the low-budget sequels, the family had only two children in “The Van” but were back to it’s full-house in “The Snapper”. Oh, and to make it all the more confusing, only one character maintained their role through all three films, and that was Colm Meaney as Jimmy Snr in “The Commitments” and “The Snapper”, but as Dessie Curley in “The Van”. Naturally, this generated a certain feeling of alienation with the films in regards to connection. However, the lesser-known sequels are equally as good as their triumphant older brother “The Commitments” who had cast an immense and oppressive shadow over them.

With the right funding, and the right minds, I sincerely hope that this country continues to produce the talent and films that we all know it’s capable of. We are a distinctive people on the frontier of Europe; the first-stop for the US on the way to this continent. So instead of losing our talented actors and directors to Britain and the US, the Irish film industry will hopefully receive a hefty dose of fresh enthusiasm with new young minds of this generation. With this in mind, I’d like to draw attention to a low-budget and unheard of film made back in 1998 called “Crush Proof”.

Now, it’s a pretty bad film, however, what I want to highlight here is what the film makers were trying to do, and how they almost managed to pull it off. In this brutal urban drama, 18 year-old Neal gets released from Mount Joy prison after spending a year behind bars. He heads to his girlfriend’s flat to see the baby boy he hasn’t held yet, and when she doesn’t let him in, he attempts to break the door down and she calls the Guards. Neal’s not even out half an hour and already it looks like he could be going back in, and when he robs a mobile phone, he only makes things worse. He rejoins his gang of horse-loving misfits and thugs and after killing the drug dealer who ratted him out and got him locked up, the gang goes into hiding in the Wicklow mountains where they’ll confront the situation, and themselves, head-on. It’s a very grim and realistic depiction of modern-day Ireland. However, the dialogue is surprisingly bland and the script has plot-holes the size of the Grand Canyon. The editing gives off the impression that no care was taken in the editing room and the scenes were all just mashed together in parts. But at the heart of it all, we have some very rough, and realistic performances. Darren Healy – where did he ever go? – is superb as Neal. It’s such an anger-driven performance. He’s the epitome of adolescent angst, social isolation, and essentially a sad testimony as to when people generally get stuck in a rut, so to speak, many just continue to spiral downwards towards self-destruction. The title is derived from a speech made by Neal in the pub when he describes the North-Side Dubliners as the original breed and ‘Crush Proof’.

We are a nation socially built on verbal abuse and banter, and this generally rings through in many of the dark comedies that have hailed from here in the past ten years. “Intermission” and “The Guard” are two fine examples of brilliant modern Irish film making. “Intermission” exhibited some of the finest Irish acting talent available in 2003, with Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney and Colin Farrell in lead roles. It was a charismatic and pulsating directorial debut from John Crowley, who was genius in his employment of Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” tactics as we have a motley crew of characters in the film portraying their lives and the events which shape them, and subsequently interlinks them with the other characters. We have a corrupt cop, a violent scumbag, two losers who work in a supermarket, a pessimistic young lady with a moustache, a bank manager who has left his wife for a younger woman, and his aforementioned wife in search of a bit of excitement following him abandoning her. “Intermission” is a sharp, honest and inglorious look at Irish culture, and the characters that exist in every society. It’s a fast-paced film; very brutal and absolutely hilarious.

“Intermission” was probably the best dark comedy Ireland had to offer until “The Guard” in 2011. Brendan Gleeson – who was a teacher before picking up acting in his thirties – plays a corrupt, acid-licking, pessimistic, whore-loving, overweight and crude Guard living in the immense wilderness of Connemara, Co. Galway. Don Cheadle stars as the FBI agent sent to Ireland to instruct the authorities on a suspected international drug-ring operating from within Connemara. Unfortunately for him, he is paired up with Gleeson in a poor man’s “Lethal Weapon”. We’ve had our share of horror films as well – and pretty bizarre and unique ones at that. “Isolation” (2005) set on a rural Wexford farm, was as gruesome as it was welcoming. And 2008’s “Shrooms” set in the Wicklow Mountains was pretty good too.

Despite these examples – there are many more, of course, but hopefully I’ve named some of the best – there does indeed appear to be a certain lack of consistency and drive within the Irish film industry at the moment. Films that are made on these shores tend to have little, if any, major publicity. Irish film makers need to be concentrating on low-budget productions, in my opinion. And I say this in regard to the indie boom in the US during the 1990’s. A pandemic that continues to this day, in which many cult favourites today are destined to be classic-status in a few decades time. Irish film-makers need to be aiming for this.