Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes loves this witty British Black Comedy!

First off let us not get confused like I almost did. I watched Seven Psychopaths MICHAEL McDONAGH's second feature length big time film since the odd but entertaining In Bruges (2008). This is NOT the same JOHN Michael McDonagh that recently directed the fantastic The Guard (2011) with Brendon Gleeson

I almost made the mistake of thinking both the McDonagh's was one and the same person and he had dropped his first name when he became a little more famous. "Since it is John he had better not," I mused. 

Having relieved my self of that error let me just say there are two McDonagh's and they are indeed brothers. Both are very gifted in writing and directing. Hopefully we will see more of their work in the future. Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths is an eccentric and very dryly humorous film that tells the story of a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who is a heavy drinker and in the middle of writers block. His new script for a project aptly titled Seven Psychopaths seems to have come out of the gates with nowhere to run. 

His friends, Hans (Christopher Walken) and Billy(Sam Rockwell) have a little side business where they kidnap peoples dogs, keep them until they see a sizable reward for the lost canines and return them for the reward. Pretty neat, huh? I guess in L.A. you can make a living doing just about ANYTHING. 

When the two kidnap a Shih Tzu that just so happens to belong to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a local but powerful gangster. There is a sweet subplot about Hans wife who is in the hospital with cancer and it is subtly and quietly handled when Hans and Myra (Lind Bright Clay) are on screen. They talk to each other like married people would talk to but the scenes are not forced and the writing is not heavy handed. Less is more in scenes like this and Martin McDonagh writes it very well. 

The rest of the cast is phenomenal  as well. Sam Rockwell (one of my favorites) could pick up just about any film and carry it to the finish line (the exception is Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (2005). But NOBODY could have saved that piece of crap). Rockwell and Walken are hilarious as they play off of each other and Colin Farrell shows he has some comic timing and garners some chuckles, too. Harrelson is always solid and his Charley is a vicious hood but still loves his doggy. 

Seven Psychopaths is not a slapstick comedy so don't think you are watch a guy fall down a flight of stairs into some paint. It is a complex comedy, with an interesting array of characters and they are interwoven into an interesting and eclectic story. Martin McDonagh has an eye and an ear for dialogue. He knows how people act with one another and how they can react to one another, too. I dare say he is Tarantinoish in how he creates dialogue. 

All said and done, Seven Psychopaths is not for everyone, but if you enjoyed In Bruges (also with Colin Farrell) and The Guard then Seven Psychopaths is just right for you. Seven Psychopaths ***1/2 out of 4

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Spitfire Grill (1996)

Old Style Small Town Chick Flick from the 90s

I saw this on MGM late last night and I had the same reaction to this movie that I had to an obscure 1981 film called Raggedy Man. As I guess I'm the only person who must have seen that film, I'll take a minute to tell you about it. 

It was set in small-town Texas during WWII, and starred Sissy Spacek as a single mother trying to raise two boys while handling the town's telephone switchboard around the clock. Eric Roberts was a sailor on leave who passes through and has a brief romance with her. At their poignant farewell, the film could have ended, having given us a warm slice of Americana. But, worried that they hadn't included all the ingredients for box-office success, the filmmakers tacked on the Big Finish, involving two local scumbags, the freakish title character, an attempted rape, and multiple murder. Audiences gave this demented concoction the Big Flush, and it's never been heard from since. 

In The Spitfire Grill, Alison Elliott, giving a sincere performance, plays a young woman just out of prison who moves to a small town in Maine to start a new life. She gets a job in the town's diner, and soon she wins the confidence of proprietress Ellen Burstyn and her timid friend Marcia Gay Harden. This film starts out like it will be a sensitive, low-key drama. I liked a sequence in which the three women auction off the diner with an essay contest, culminating in a lovely scene where the three of them sit up late drinking and reading the essays aloud. 

This bonding would be enough of a plot for most, and there's some nice scenery (Vermont standing in for Maine) and small-town ambiance. James Horner's rapturous music evokes the world of To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, before the film ends, writer/director Lee David Zlotoff was dragging me off to places I didn't wanna go. For the Big Finish, he brings in an irrationally jealous male adversary, some stolen money, and a mysterious Boo Radley character living in the woods. Ugh. It began with promise, but when it was over, I felt no wish to return. Anyway, readers might be interested to know that this movie won the Audience Award at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

JohnnyTwoToes has no nightmares seeing this lame remake!

As a fan of the original 1984 Nightmare On Elm Street, I was nervous about watching the 2010 Hollywood retread of Nightmare On Elm Street with Rooney Mara (The Girl With Dragon Tattoo) in her first major studio role. Sadly, this version reportedly with a $35 million budget and the backing of Hollywood mogul Michael Bay, is not only not nearly as good as its original but in reality, its quite a bad film, seriously!

This time around, Jackie Earle Haley plays the pedophile razor blade gloved, striped sweater wearing, evil psychopath Freddy Krueger who invades your dreams and GETS YOU! If you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Of course, no one believes such hogwash and more teens are mercilessly slaughtered until Nancy (Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) manage to pull a solution out of their asses and figure a way on how to kill evil Freddy. 

Teens who have not seen the original 1984 cult hit will no doubt like (or even love) this film, but those of us who have some years will know that the Wes Craven first edition is still king. Visually at least, this  2010 edit offers all the blood works expected of a big-budget horror slasher flick and more so, maybe because Samuel Bayer, the director is well-known for his prowess in making TV ads and popular music videos for bands like Nirvana, Rolling Stones, Green Day and many more. 

However, the acting is very average and the script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer is flat all the way through, inherently shallow and weak. Oscar nominated Jackie Earle Haley is no doubt, a fine actor who has done it all (just look at his resume on IMDB) but he seems to lack the depth and skills here to match the kind of macabre, twisted fun and wicked wit you got watching the original Freddy (Robert Englund). 

Unlike the original which spawned 8 sequels, this remake was and is perhaps aimed at the lucrative teen horror market. Nothing more can justify its distinctive rank - apparently its the eighth all-time highest grossing slasher film in unadjusted dollars !

So, here's my advice? If you want vintage Freddy Krueger fun, save your money or rent the original. Or if you want to simply see a glossy but shoddy reimagining 0f a Horror classic, watch this. A word of note on notable music by Steve Jablonsky and his a 60-piece string ensemble which enlivens an otherwise dumb film. Nightmare On Elm Street(2010) -*1/2 out of 4.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stake Land (2010)

JohnnyToeToes highly recommends this Vampire - Zombie Thriller!

As I settled in for a film one cold night in Nashville, USA, I was a bit fearful. Stake Land is a B titled film from 2010, and I had heard both good and bad reviews but still decided to give it a whirl. The fact I was not expecting much might be why I was pleasantly surprised and why I recommend it.

Stake Land has a fairly simple plot and is narrated by Martin (Connor Paolo), a young lad whose parents are slaughtered by zombie-like vampires that now have inexplicably begun to roam the Earth looking for fresh meat. Martin is saved by a man who is called, rather simply Mister (Nick Damici who also co wrote the script). Mister rescues Martin and the two begin to travel north looking for a safe haven called New Eden in a gigantic, weapon enriched car. Soon, they meet 'Sister' played by Kelly McGillis, a young pregnant singer 'Belle' played by Danielle Harris, and "Willie"a former soldier played by Sean Nelson. As the five head for New Eden, they meet up with the leader of a cult group Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris). It seems this group is worse than the zombie-vamps as they rape and pillage what is left of the post-apocalypse society. Now, the five have to not only contend with the zombie-vamps but with this crowd of thugs and miscreants too. 

Stake Land may be a B titled film and I had never heard of the two lead stars or the director. In fact the only people I knew of where Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4, The Last Boy Scout) and Sean Nelson (Fresh, American Buffalo and TV's Law & Order). Don't let that dissuade you. 

I really enjoyed Stake Land. It is an effective film that is well directed by Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street, Pride and Glory), who keeps the pacing up and a underlying feeling of constant dread as it would be in that situation. I felt like I was watching a spinoff from the AMC series The Walking Dead. The characters are interesting and cared about what happened to them. It is not perfect but it is grisly and a fun piece of film making. It does not need to oversell its material and the film is constructed to be rather quiet when the action is not on screen. 

The cinematography by Ryan Samul is simply terrific; bleak and cold all the way though which really helps the story. You get the feeling there is no hope and the ending is perfect (the kind of ending I wanted with Killer Joe). Mickle and Damici don't have to explain everything and the ending leaves us with some questions as to what happens and a possible sequel (Killer Joe left us with nothing to go on). The acting by the cast is excellent and it was great to Kelly McGillis back in films. It has been far too long without seeing her act. Stake Land is nothing original and it knows it, but what it knows, it does well - a great late night horror film. So tuck in and lock your doors. Stake Land- *** out of 4.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Speaking My Mind

A local perspective adds more than just color

It's been a few weeks here now in Thailand for me. A "back to school" residential course with 'change the world' big aspirations. An altruistic social enterprise of sorts with plenty of money being spent on me and others of my kind from around the world, rather lavishly.

I did the primer in September last year but that was a small crowd maybe around two dozen. This time around, its much bigger, probably 100 or more, of many different nationalities and more women too.

Folks from the western world - Americans, Britishers and Canadians (again) as teachers & trainers and folks from Asia mostly as the trainees - Chinese, Cambodians, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians, many Thais of course with also a few from Fiji, Mongolia, New Zealand, Burma, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei. I don't know the rest - didn't I tell you it's a big crowd .

Considering our sponsors are really so considerate of our needs - what with the first class accommodations, air conditioned travel and multicuisine buffet selections everyday, I really don't get it how our western trainers can give or add any meaningful Asian or local perspective to this training exercise. I don't mean to be racist but many of our trainers seem to lack local knowledge or asian experience - almost all of them on their first visit to Thailand or for that reason, any other Asian country too.

I have to admit they have taught me brand new techniques and I have gained some great insights. I also agree they are indeed experts with extremely rich credentials and prestigious affiliations but without the local touch, it doesn't really add up much - a mission and vision statement isn't enough - at least the way it was originally intended to.

In the last one week of classes I have attended, there have been many instances of this lost opportunity and as someone chosen to head this new collective of global change makers, I am dismayed at the selections our sponsors have made. A few more local experts would have added a whole new perspective to this gathering - at its least, more depth, better insights and it would have costed cheaper too.

I will probably get a lot of flak for posting this and I am sure to annoy my sponsors, my mentor, many of my co-participants and perhaps most unfortunately my esteemed trainers who I otherwise have the highest regard.

But as someone who has always believed in speaking your mind, this seems the right thing to do - anything less would have been hypocritical!
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