ANTEBELLUM (2020)

November 14, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is the movie for anyone unaware that racism was prevalent during the Civil War, and still continues to this day. Of course anyone fitting that description is likely enjoying their life in a cave, and is clueless that movies exist. It even goes as far to “inform” us that slaves were abused, tortured, and lynched, while today racism can take the more subtle form of a less desirable restaurant table or a concierge with an attitude. However, while the message may be unnecessary and too obvious, the originality and creative approach of filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz is commendable, especially for their first feature film.

An uninterrupted extended take kicks off the movie, and shows us the lay of the land at a cotton plantation where the slaves are controlled by confederate soldiers. When an attempted escape goes wrong, the brutality of the soldiers is on display. One of the slaves is Eden, played by Janelle Monae. She’s the favorite of the General (Eric Lange, seen recently in two popular cable mini-series, “Escape at Dannemora” and “Perry Mason”), and he literally brands her as his property. Many of the sequences are difficult to watch as the cruelty and abuse is not sugar-coated.

When we next see Ms. Monae wake up from a dream, she’s living in a swanky home with a perfect husband (Marque Richardson) and cute daughter. She’s now Veronica, a well-known author and speaker who is living the American dream. A night on the town with her friends played by Gabourey Sidibe (Oscar nominated for PRECIOUS, 2009) and Lily Cowles purposefully comes across like it’s from a different movie altogether. It’s this contrast the filmmakers use to deliver their M Night Shyamalan style twist. Afterwards, it’s wheels-off for the movie, but we are able to assemble the pieces of what we’ve seen to this point.

Jena Malone and Jack Huston also play key roles here, but it’s Ms. Monae who gets the majority of the screen time, and mostly nails both Eden and Veronica. Although much of the film and story seems exaggerated and over-played, cinematographer Pedro Luque (THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, 2018) delivers a beautifully shot film, so it always looks good, regardless of what else we might be thinking. Filmmakers Bush and Renz likely have much more nuanced and effective storytelling in their future, and we do expect Ms. Monae to take the step from supporting roles to leads. She’s earned it.

watch the trailer


SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)

October 14, 2012

Greetings again from the darkness. When a writer/director sets a standard with a film like In Bruges, the anticipation for the follow-up is palpable, especially from those of us with the demented sense of humor necessary to watch that film over and over. Martin McDonagh is a writer firs (shorts, features and plays), and a self-taught filmmaker second. He again shows his talent for interesting characters in unusual situations, and an extraordinary blend of black comedy, violence and personal struggles with morality.

This film is a smart (but dark) comedy about characters who aren’t nearly as smart as they see themselves. It’s quite self-referential and at its best is a self-parody. Colin Farrell plays a writer who is blocked after creating the perfect title … “Seven Psychopaths”. Sam Rockwell plays his best friend who runs a crafty little dog-napping business and feeds Farrell possible story lines. He even goes as far as to run an ad asking real life psychopaths to come tell their story. Yep, this plan is just running smoothly until Rockwell kidnaps the dog of a local gangster played by Woody Harrelson.

What we quickly figure out is that we are watching Farrell’s writing process unfold on screen. The bigger challenge is trying to figure out which parts are really happening and which parts are fantasy or part of the creative process. The writing and acting are very skillful. Christopher Walken plays Rockwell’s partner and delivers what may be his best performance in years. It’s very offbeat and irregular … in other words, typical Walken.  Though there are many excellent scenes, the best ones involve Walken.

The script pokes fun at the weak female characters – Abbie Cornish as Farrell’s girlfriend, and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as Harrelson’s less-than-loyal girlfriend. The film also features some of my favorite character actors. In addition to Walken, we get the great Tom Waits as a bunny loving psychopath, Harry Dean Stanton as a Quaker, Zeljko Ivanek as a henchman, and an opening scene with “Boardwalk Empire” alums Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg.

 As wonderful a writer as McDonagh is, we can’t help notice the influences of Quentin Tarantino and the spaghetti westerns – especially The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. His comedic tendencies wrapped in violent sequences really challenge us as viewers. Trying to find the good in those who aren’t necessarily so good adds an element and complexity as the film throws violence in our face as the characters are confronting their deeper feelings on morality. Since Farrell’s character is a writer named Martin, we are probably safe in assuming that McDonagh is working through some of these same issues himself (especially the unnecessary violence and weak women characters).  McDonagh proves again to be one of the most intriguing and talented filmmakers working, and even though this one is a tick below his last one, I anxiously await his next.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you saw In Bruges and appreciated the dark comedy and philosophical nature OR you don’t want to miss a classic Christopher Walken performance

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your comedy to be light-hearted in nature OR you can’t appreciate the character who brings a flare gun to the final shootout in the desert

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOsd5d8IVoA