SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (Great Britain, 2012)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
CAST: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 83% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

I wanted to like Seven Psychopaths more than I ultimately did, but it is still a fun, mostly unpredictable ride.  My biggest hangup was that it felt too similar, in broad strokes, to other “meta” movies.  To other BETTER movies, unfortunately.  I always try to review the movie in front of me instead of comparing it to other films, but in this case that guideline proved impossible.  But I did try.

The story involves Martin (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles; Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), his best friend who also runs a dog-napping racket with HIS friend, Hans (Christopher Walken); and Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a dog-loving gangster whose favorite pet is a Shih Tzu named Bonny…whom, as it happens, the dog-nappers have stolen.  We get an idea of just how much Charlie loves his dog during a scene where he interrogates the dog-walker who lost her.  When a man is willing to shoot someone over a dog, I’d be the first in line to give it back, but Billy has other plans.

See, his friend Martin is trying to write a screenplay.  He’s under a deadline, but all he has so far is the title: Seven Psychopaths.  He doesn’t even know who all the psychopaths are yet.  So, Billy tells him a couple of stories about psychopaths that he’s heard about here and there, and the characters slowly start to take shape.  Meanwhile, Hans makes periodic visits to his cancer-stricken wife at the hospital.  Also, a serial killer is on the loose, but he only kills mafia and yakuza hitmen.  ALSO also, Billy puts an ad in the paper advertising for psychopaths to reach out to him and Martin so their stories can be used in Martin’s screenplay.  That’s how they wind up meeting Zachariah (Tom Waits), an odd little man who carries a rabbit wherever he goes and spins a tale of how he and HIS wife would hunt…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As you see, there’s a lot of story going on.  And, as I mentioned before, most of it is unpredictable.  The concept of a killer who only targets hitmen is unique, at least in my mind.  But when the story focused on Martin’s screenplay and how it was being put together, that’s when I started having cinematic déjà vu.

Example: Martin isn’t sure how he wants it to end.  He’s a pacifist, so he doesn’t want it to end in a cliched shootout.  Billy spins a tale of how HE would end the film, with a bullet-ridden, blood-soaked shootout in a cemetery, featuring the return of Martin’s ex-girlfriend for no reason and a supporting cast of all seven of the psychopaths reuniting, also for no reason.  At that moment, I instinctively thought, “Well, clearly this movie is going to end in a shootout.” And it does. Sort of.

Martin hears Billy out and disagrees.  “They should all just go to the desert and talk their issues out instead of shooting each other.”  Again, I realized, “Okay, so they’re going to wind up in the desert.” And they do.

And so it went, over and over again.  A character would pitch an idea for Martin’s screenplay, and later in the film that idea would suddenly be manifested.  Martin gets criticized because his screenplay doesn’t feature enough women and doesn’t give them anything meaningful to do or say…in the middle of a movie where the women don’t do or say anything meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong, I like meta movies.  But despite the dark comedy and the typical awesomeness of Chris Walken and the other elements that weren’t so predictable (the reason behind Hans’ cravat, for example), I just couldn’t shake the feeling of “it’s all been done before, and better.”  I’m thinking specifically of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (no screenwriter, but same vibe) and Adaptation, a movie where the lines between reality and the screenplay get so blurred as to be non-existent.  Seven Psychopaths feels like it’s trying to get to that level, but it never quite gets there.  On that level, it’s not quite a success.

However, I will say it’s worth a watch for any movie fans.  There are enough satirical elements that make it worthwhile.  (“But his rabbit gets away, though, because you can’t let animals die in a movie…just the women.”)  Walken’s performance is, as always, the stuff of legend, even in a smaller role like this one.  Late in the movie, he has a marvelous scene between himself and a button man with a shotgun.  If that vignette is not mentioned during the tribute video when he eventually passes away, I would be extremely disappointed.


By Marc S. Sanders

Iron Man 2 is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a film. Director Jon Favreau returns, but not with the same insight he invested into the first Iron Man. This loud, headache inducing sequel is an assemblage of cutting room floor scenes taped together to mask itself as a cohesive narrative brought to life. The movie exists. Yet it has no brain.

Six months have passed since the events of the first film, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is ready to open his peace parade Expo in New York. The problems begin here. Stark, who redeemed himself as a born-again, eyes open martyr at the end of the first film, reverts to an obnoxious jerk full of brash, rude cockiness. Downey goes so over the top with his improvisational one liners that you can hardly stand Tony Stark, and this is all before he gets drunk and pees in the Iron Man suit.

Stark is experiencing rapid blood toxicity from the suit and he is unable to find a solution. I might have been concerned at first but after the film is over, the convenient remedy just made me feel cheated. Poor writing offers a convenient get of jail free card.

Then there is Stark’s relationship with his friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle). Cheadle shows potential in the part he resumed from Terrance Howard, but he really only serves two sole purposes, to have an armor throw down with Tony throughout the mansion (a stupid fight by the way), and to wear the new War Machine armor. That, I’ll say is pretty cool in charcoal black with red eyes and a shoulder resting machine gun.

Gwenyth Paltrow is back as Pepper Potts, and she just kvetches a lot. Paltrow and Downey’s chemistry are all but gone. Not really the actors’ fault though. More so, it’s the dumb screenplay by Justin Theroux who I guess found it adorable for the two players to squabble amid the action scenes. It’s rather annoying actually.

Theroux makes a lot of misfires here. The great Mickey Rourke appears to have fleshed out a great villain known as Whiplash. A Russian physicist with a grudge against Stark. Rourke offers a scary appearance of long hair, gold teeth and a tattooed muscular body. Oh, and he has a cockatoo as well. Mustn’t forget that. Too much of this film is devoted to this bird that does nothing. Whiplash is insufficiently written. He has a mid-film battle with Stark at the Grand Prix in Monaco, then following a prison escape, he’s harbored by Stark competitor, Justin Hammer, in a factory where he does nothing but build robots. None of this is interesting.

Sam Rockwell plays Hammer as a whiny kid in nerdy glasses and even nerdier three piece suits. He’s not a villain you ever love. He’s a Frank Burns, but his stupidity against Stark and Rourke’s character offers no humor from the stooge that he is.

Side stories focus on anticipation towards the first Avengers film with Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, yet not much is offered. They have nothing to do with anything else going on in this hodgepodge. Johansson finally gets a good fight scene during the climax, but it remains brief.

So there’s really nothing in Iron Man 2. It’s just a mix of things smashed together. The Iron Man suit only has three scenes, one to open the Expo (no fight there), one to have drunk Tony Stark fight with Rhodey while wrecking his house (Belushi did it better in Animal House, as well as the cast of Sixteen Candles), and then finally in a climactic ending against Hammer’s military robots and Rourke’s Whiplash who hardly participates in the moment.

Iron Man 2 is likely my least favorite of all the MCU films. (Actually, Eternals took that top honor, recently.) It offers one redeeming quality and that’s its end credit scene, maybe my favorite of that particular category.

Otherwise, Iron Man 2 is pointless, dumb, ignorant of its product, and flat out obnoxious.

Stan Lee Cameo: Was that Larry King? Really?


By Marc S. Sanders

From February 2017:

A number of years ago I read Roger Ebert’s review of a Kevin Spacey film called The Life Of David Gale, only after seeing the film myself. Reading his viewpoint assured me that perhaps I do recognize good and bad filmmaking with the absence of influence. Like me, he hated the film because of its contrivances and the complete 180 on Spacey’s character. He said it angered him so much that he wanted to throw his popcorn at the screen. Years later, I feel the same way, for nearly identical reasons after seeing this 2017 Best Picture nominee. I hate Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I HATED THIS MOVIE. Hated it so much that I’m pissed over how much I hated it. This film is worthy of Best Picture, Actors and Screenplay nominations???? There was nothing better than this dreck???? Not Baby Driver, or Wonder Woman? Not All The Money In The World? Blade Runner 2049?

This film contains great talent trying way too hard to elevate the stupidity of the unjustified actions of their characters so much that suspension of disbelief isn’t just thrown out the window (like one hapless character who earns no justice), it’s burned, beaten, raped, shot, burned again, thrown off a building and drowned.

Consider midway thru the film, Sam Rockwell’s nominated performance as a vile, heinously racist backwoods lawman. He reads a letter and is magically transformed into a do gooder Boy Scout. There’s no way in hell I’d ever believe this. No one should. This guy is the entire KKK in one embodiment. By the time this bastard gets to this “epiphany” he had already committed the most sickening and atrociously violent actions fathomed, and in great detail. Yet magically a letter from a friend and an arson scene that burns him suddenly transform him. Just like that. Uh uh. Too convenient. Too manufactured. Too insulting to a movie going audience.

This film is full of other ridiculous contrivances that are simply too long and spoilery to describe here. (I’d love to spoil the film to salvage anyone from seeing this crap.)

Frances McDormand’s character is also despicably written. Here’s a character entitled to the anger she has after losing a daughter to rape and murder, worthy of attention due to the stubborn intellect she conveys during the act one exposition, yet as the film progresses, she becomes incredibly stupid and downright unlikable. What a thoughtless jerk she is. Nothing to cheer for. Nothing to love to hate. Nothing to laugh at. Nothing to cry over. Nothing. She’s just an asshole who conveniently gets away with her actions, yet everyone knows she’s the culprit.

In a film like this the bad cops are uncaring racists. The good ones are the clueless keystone cops who conveniently can’t see the forest through the trees. I don’t like it, and more importantly I don’t believe it. Unacceptable!!!

What a stupidly shitty movie that has been executed here in exchange for arguably the most interesting idea of all the 9 Best Picture nominees. I salute the idea of the film. It’s the execution that’s deplorable.

The only redemption that can come from this garbage now is if this film does not win one single Oscar. Sadly, I think I’ll be wrong. Congratulations Sam Rockwell, you stole a trophy from three much more entitled actors (Christopher Plummer, Richard Jenkins and I hear Willem Defoe.) Woody Harrelson’s performance in this pic is also up for grabs….for what? He coughs up blood quite well. I have no clue, otherwise.

Don’t believe the hype. Three Billboards… only has a great title, a great concept on paper and a great cast list. Beneath all that is carbon monoxide. Don’t breathe it in. You’ll only feel sick after watching it.

This will likely remain as one of the ten most despised movies I’ve ever seen.


By Marc S. Sanders

Christian Bale is one of the greatest method actors working today. He’ll put on muscle mass for Batman. He’ll shrink himself down to a skeletal 100 pounds for roles in The Mechanic and his Oscar winning turn in The Fighter. In Adam McKay’s new film, Vice, Bale puts the weight to present an uncanny resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Without Bale and co-star Amy Adams as wife Lynne Cheney, Vice would not succeed. Both will be nominated for Oscars this year. McKay can expect nominations for himself and Best Picture.

McKay approaches Vice similarly to his winning film The Big Short, where a historical debacle of great proportions is told from a comedic approach. However, the gags of Vice don’t necessarily measure up to the absurdity of the real estate investment collapse of The Big Short. Cheney’s accomplishments were just too sad, too tragic, too shocking to laugh at entirely.

Dick Cheney was a drunk who suffered multiple heart attacks. He got kicked out of Yale University. His daughter, Mary, is gay. His other daughter, Liz, went into politics herself and dismissed her sister’s sexual orientation. Dick has remained married to his very wise and very aggressive wife Lynne who more or less rescued him from a wasted life. Dick Cheney shot his close friend accidentally while hunting, and never apologized for it. He was fortunate to receive a heart transplant that continues to prolong his life, and Dick Cheney became Vice President of the United States for two terms. You don’t have to like the guy but you have to admit he’s got a colorful past.

It’s all in the movie. Immediately, McKay puts in a few words of a byline that this film is based on fact to best of their knowledge but they more or less tried their fucking best.

My impression of what could be considered a very divisive film was actually not divisive to me at all actually. Bale along with McKay’s screenplay show a Dick Cheney who truly sees no other way to carry on a political career than with a silent yet ruthless touch. Later, it required more aggressive tactics not labeled as torture and not appearing beyond his authority even if he is only the Vice President. Bale has the voice down, the walk and as noted before the appearance. This film will likely win Best Makeup.

Having recently seen three potential nominees for Best Actress in The Favorite, I have to say Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney beats them all. This is not an Amy Adams we’ve seen before. Lynne is depicted as smart, aware in a mindset of no nonsense bullshit. She gets the job done, and if she had her way she’d take the job herself but she’s aware of her limits as a woman. Adams easily shows her Lady Macbeth in a scene where daughter Mary reveals herself as gay. Dick promises to love Mary no matter what. Adams as Lynne does not. Adams offers an expression that kills. Right there in this scene is her Oscar moment. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen all year.

Back to Macbeth for a moment, McKay has a great imagination for gags including elevating the fantasy of Dick and Lynne reciting MacBeth to each other in bed while mulling the possibility of becoming George W Bush’s running mate. It’s more than that for Dick. Both know this is absolute power…finally. I’d accept if their decision to run came down to something like this. It takes an ego trip to obtain power after all. If you’ve already been denied power before, the power trip only becomes more powerful on another occasion.

The Shakespeare gag works. Some others fall a little flat. Some really win. Out of the blue, prior to running on Bush’s ticket, McKay wraps up the first portion of Cheney’s life and literally rolls end credits. Then a phone rings and Cheney’s biggest story begins. The end credits moment is a great psyche out.

Vice is not a perfect movie. A huge misfire occurs midway through the end credits that derails McKay’s best effort at a neutral point of view for the Republican. It’s a moment that screams of present day chaos of opinion. McKay said screw it and folded his hand to take advantage of showing how he really feels. Before this scene, McKay and his cast embraced the Cheneys despite their hard to swallow viewpoints and actions. If you are going to make a movie about Dick Cheney or Barack Obama or Mickey Mouse you, as the storyteller, have to develop an appreciation for the centerpiece. If all you are going to do is bash and mudsling, then perhaps you are not qualified to tell the tale. McKay failed at the finish line.

Still, the journey is always interesting. There are things to learn here, things to recollect and things to question how it all came to be a reality.

A good cast is offered including a surprising appearance by Tyler Perry as Colin Powell; make a movie about this guy and get Perry back. Steve Carrell plays a buffoonish Don Rumsfeld. Was Rumsfeld this stupid and this haphazard? I don’t know. McKay uses him to play the fool and the jester. I doubt Rumsfeld has a loyal fan base ready to wave pitch forks. So who cares, really? It’s in the past.

A casting misfire is Sam Rockwell. Moviegoers are too familiar with the real George W. Bush especially in 2018 following the loss of his parents and his deeply appreciated eulogies. Rockwell teeters on 12:45 am Saturday Night Live material, as he chomps down on chicken wings, with a good ol’ boy Texas dialect. I know people want to believe Bush 43 was this stupid. I’m just not ready to accept that. Ironically, a producer on this project is Will Farrell, widely known for his George W Bush on SNL. Farrell would have been a better George here.

Compliments also go to Jesse Plemons as a narrator with an unknown connection to Cheney. Plemons’ delivery plays well on an even keel.

Vice is a complicated film about a hard man to like with little to know redeeming qualities. Adam McKay is cornering the market on films about American absurdities of the past. He’s good at this kind of filmmaking. This isn’t his best film but it still works. Just get ready to leave the theatre as the real end credits roll. Again, it’s a moment that serves the film’s worst flaw as McKay leaves his imagination at the door. Everything before that was right on track. Adam McKay…next time, don’t think too hard.