Seven Psychopaths is a well-made movie that left me deeply confused. Playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature, following the flawless In Bruges (2008), is a crime caper / action flick / black comedy / buddy movie / meta-narrative on the process of screenwriting. That last element, in which our screenwriter hero Marty (Colin Farrell) draws a crew of friends and acquaintances into fleshing out his newest movie – titled Seven Psychopaths – throws the rest out of whack. It’s a movie about the writing of itself, which is even more inscrutable than it sounds.
Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Billy’s partner in crime Hans (Christopher Walken) are “professional” dog kidnappers – they target rich owners, borrow the animals until posters promising a reward appear, and cash in. Their reliance on the bond between man and pet is tested after snatching a shih tzu belonging to gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie’s love for the mutt is worth killing for. Meanwhile, Marty’s awesome screenplay title, crucially missing any plot, is slowly pieced together from anecdotes and urban legends passed along from various shady characters. One of them, played by Tom Waits, perpetually cradles a bunny rabbit. Don’t ask me.
So running from Charlie and picking up inspiration along the way builds Marty’s screenplay Seven Psychopaths, in a movie called Seven Psychopaths written by a man named Martin. It’s Adaptation on a bender. McDonagh’s signature blend of comedy and drama, violence and commentary-on-violence, doesn’t work quite as well as In Bruges (2008), but for all its incoherency its dream cast assures a wild ride. 3.5/5 - Jesse Skinner
CLOUD ATLAS (dir. Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski)
Anticipation of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas fuels my suspicion that importance of faithfulness to source material has little to do with the movie going experience. I have not read the novel but I suspect a great deal of effort has gone into perfectly translating its pace, structure and the vast complexities that others tell me make it un-filmable – all in effort to appease the novel’s fans. The three directors try to both preserve the book and close the gap between reader and viewer by streamlining its action from scene to scene, era to era, story to story, character to character with split second clarity - in the end that clarity might need a bit more work.
Cloud Atlas is all over the map that probably doesn't make as much sense as its makers intended. But never mind trying to catch a thread to link the multiple, century-spanning stories together - Cloud Atlas is a visual pleasure with great performances in multiple roles (most notably an unrecognizable Tom Hanks as, among others, a volatile mobster-punk author) although at a running time of 165 minutes (in festival time, that’s a mini-series) over stays it's welcome by about 45. 3/5 - Thom Ernst
THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST (dir. Mira Nair)
Spoiler alert: The Reluctant Fundamentalist strays from its source material, a novel by Mohsin Hamid. No matter - the book stands alone as a great political-thriller with subversive undertones. It’s one hell of a suspenseful read. Mira Nair's film version is more cinematic and takes liberties that will certainly ruffle a few feathers. This might run against a perceived commitment to the original text but ultimately maintains all questions aroused from the novel.
Nair has made the story her own, and it works despite some initial detours into the storybook rise of a young Pakistani’s life in corporate New York. Festival buzz has this film on shaky ground with some who, although finding the performances riveting, feel the story ineffective and pedestrian. It's an opinion that radically opposes the feelings I had while watching it and most certainly the sensation I was left with when it was over. 4/5 - T.E.
AFTERSHOCK (dir. Nicolás López)
Aftershock is a three different bad movies in a row. For an initial half hour we follow a gang of tourists and their local guides in Chile as they see the sights and enjoy the nightlife, two things that are incredibly boring to watch other people do. It might be the most drawn-out first act in horror movie history. Finally an earthquake hits and for about 15 minutes Aftershock turns into the kind of stupidly fun ground-level disaster movie unseen since the genre was taken over by planet-destroying CGI work.
With the quake business over quickly our band of idiots become pray to roving criminal gangs, and that’s when Aftershock takes its sharpest turn, and goes horribly, depressingly wrong. Any fun had from watching people outrun comically huge chunks of falling cinderblock is drained by two (!) extended and voyeuristic rape sequences, shots lingering on the bodies of dead women and children, and gore that goes from over-the-top to painfully realistic without warning. Part of me thinks Hostel creator Eli Roth - producer, co-writer and star – took on Aftershock for the paid South American vacation. Why he thought to assure it was nearly unwatchable boggles the mind. 1.5/5 - J.S.