Thursday, October 25, 2012


As you prepare for your moviegoing experience this weekend, you might consider this flick. 

Not many people can make an original movie while copying other people’s styles. But Martin McDonagh manages to in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. This picture is very Quentin Tarantinoesque with maybe a dash of Steve Martin. PULP FICTION meets L.A. STORY. Yet the viewpoints, weird plot turns, and characters all seem very much McDonagh’s own. 

For those not familiar with Martin McDonagh, he’s an Irish playwright who has written some highly acclaimed and darkly bizarre plays including THE PILLOWMAN. He also won an Oscar in 2006 for his short film SIX SHOOTER and was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for IN BRUGES in 2006. So now a few of you are saying, “Oh, that guy” while most of you are saying “Okay, now I know.” With more movies like SEVEN PSYCOPATHS and maybe eight more nomination, everyone is going to know who he is soon enough.

No SPOILER ALERT because I won’t tell you anything that happens, but let me fill you in on some of the characters to give you an idea of what you’re in for.

It’s set in Hollywood so naturally it features a struggling screenwriter and hit men. Colin Farrell is the scribe so you know right away his genre is not Nancy Meyer films. His best friend is an out-of-work actor (no Hollywood-based movie would be without one of those either)/loose cannon played by Sam Rockwell. They’re great together. Bert & Ernie with violence.

You always wonder what starving actors do to pay the rent. Sam kidnaps dogs and returns them to their owners for the reward. Hey, waiter gigs are scarce these days. His partner in crime is Chris Walken. You can’t have a movie called SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and not have Christopher Walken. Hell, you can’t have a movie called ONE PSYCHOPATH and not have Christopher Walken. He turns in another mesmerizing weird performance.

And then there’s my buddy, Woody Harrelson as the scary mob boss. There’s always something so likable about Woody. As I watched him on the screen I thought, “Y’know, I bet we could’ve gotten away with having him kill people on CHEERS.”

Throw Tom Waits and few other crazies into the stew and you’ve got a rollicking good film. There are very few women in the movie but that issue is addressed.

In true Tarantino style there are flashes of graphic violence. And several storylines dovetail and connect. I think at one point or another every character in the film is pointing a gun at every other character in the film. The movie is a tad long (perhaps McDonah would have been better served making SIX PSYCHOPATHS) but it moves along at a decent clip and is very very FUNNY.

And here’s why every fledgling comedy writer should see it: For all the laughs in the film – BIG laughs – there are no jokes. Not a one. The laughs all come out of character and attitude. The laughs are all super specific to who those people are. No line is interchangeable. Also, every line is delivered straight. Nobody knows they’re saying something amusing. No one is trying to say something amusing. It’s just who they are and what they think in the reality of the world they exist in. Compare that to forced comic set pieces with endless unmotivated pratfalls and tired punchlines.

And comedy lesson number two: Laughs come from reactions. And Colin Farrell gets a whole bunch without saying a word. There are so many more tools at the comedy writer’s disposal than just the word vagina and someone vomiting into a tuba.

Warning: there are moments of gore and the dialogue can get raw. The C-bomb is dropped maybe five minutes in. But SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is worth a look. It’s a fun ride. The only thing I would say though is that not everybody in LA carries a gun. Everyone does have a screenplay but a few are unarmed.


Coco said...

What have you got against Nancy Meyers? You're making me question my taste. I like her movies, and I love the prod/set design on them.

Mac said...

Sounds great. Of course Tarantino himself was no slouch in the comedy-writing department. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction and everybody in the cinema was falling about laughing, in between the flying-brains-gunshots-cellar-rape etc. But yeah, this sounds well worth a go.

J. Allison said...

Well nothing goes together like graphic violence and comedy! I guess I'm just the oddball who doesn't find murder to be funny.

Christodoulos said...

“Y’know, I bet we could’ve gotten away with having him kill people on CHEERS.”

Ah, the famous missing episode "Arsenic And Stale Beer".

Tim W. said...

I"ve seen the trailer several times, but was hesitant to see it because not one person got hit in the crotch in it. If you say it was funny, can I assume there are several scenes of someone getting hit in the crotch that didn't make it into the trailer?

Joseph Finn said...

I saw it a couple of weeks ago and liked it quite a lot. It is indeed very funny and there's also some very heartfelt, earned moments that I liked a lot (plus, best Walken performance that's not a "Walken appearance" in years).

Johnny Walker said...

Added to my "to watch" list.

Emily Blake said...

I adore McDonagh. When I first saw In Bruges in the theater I immediately realized I sucked, and went home to rewrite everything ever.

I keep thinking that his favorite book must be Catch 22. You laugh at the absurdity, and then suddenly, without warning, you find yourself in tears. I laughed hard throughout the film, but then I even cried. Walken and Rockwell were AMAZING.

McDonagh is seriously my idol.

Mitchell Hundred said...

There is one point you make here that I find particularly interesting. Although not a writer myself, I have always enjoyed reading fiction. One thing that I have learned from this experience is that character development is the most important part of any story (on page, screen, or elsewhere). Well-developed characters give the audience someone to sympathize with, and are the one thing that a story can give us that no other form of expression can. As such, the uniqueness of a story's characters and to what extent the story is derived from their personalities can be a good indicator of that story's quality. I am glad to see that you agree with this.

Steve said...

A master of interesting characters and dialogue. The theater company I work with has staged "The Cripple of Inishmaan","A Skull in Connemara" and "The Lonesome West". It's an actor's dream to work with his dialogue and, in the right hands, it can be truly hilarious. I'm looking forward to seeing this.

KG said...

Ken, for Friday questions:

Do you feel like technological progress has given you more or less opportunities to write jokes?

A couple of days ago I was watching an old episode of Friends and because Rachel was waiting for an important call, no one could use the telephone.

Nowadays this wouldn't be a problem cause everybody has a mobile phone. So this is just one example where technological progress has taken away a opportunity to write a funny story.

On the other hand one could write now about E-Mail, Twitter followers, Youtube etc. and build good jokes about these things. Big Bang Theory does that a lot.

So, what do you think?

Greetings, Kaan

ally said...

Hi Ken,

I'm listening to cheesy music on the radio and they have a guest DJ introducing the songs. After what you wrote about your talent of being able to speak right up until the singing starts, it is painfully obvious to me that all they had this person do is speak into a recorder, and fill in the songs after the fact. I now know exactly what you were talking about, and am even more impressed that you were able to do this live. This station had a head start, and they still couldn't get it right!

XJill said...

Saw this opening weekend at the Arclight with a Martin McDonagh Q & A, it was great fun! We all got one of those dog hats Bily wears in the desert, an unexpected bonus.

In Bruges is still the best though. If any commenters reading haven't seen that yet, get on it.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

"C" Word... Crap?

Jon Deutschman said...

Martin McDonagh is probably my favorite working writer. He gets compared to Tarantino a lot, but in my opinion his two films are much more original and interesting, his plays even more so. McDonagh doesn't seem to feel the need to comment on his pop-culture fixations every 10 seconds, and also doesn't seem to lift entire scenes wholesale from other movies, two things about Tarantino that drive me nuts.

Michael Stoffel said...

Coming from a family that was devastated by a random murder, I'll pass on "violence is funny!"

LinGin said...

AMC has been running "The Dead Zone" this month and I've been thinking about how perceptions have changed over the years. In that movie Christopher Walken was the sacrificing hero and Martin Sheen was cast as the psychopath.

Nick W. said...

Ken, First off, I read your blog daily and absolutely get a kick out of it. It's both incredibly entertaining and awesomely informative. I especially loved you're recent Cheers anniversary coverage, since I've been spending the whole summer and fall watching it on Netflix. Which leads me to...

A FRIDAY QUESTION for you (or maybe just a thought to extrapolate on):

I recently watched the "Diane Meets Mom" episode where we meet Fraiser's mom, which I was really intrigued by because the character had died by the time Fraiser moved to Seattle. There were a couple things that made me love everything about this in the Cheers episode. A) That Hestor was evil. B) That Hester was played by the indomitable Nancy Marchand (aka Livia "Tony's Nasty Mother" Soprano to those of us young enough to only just be getting into early episodes of Cheers), and how that made my brain spin at the fact that both "Cheers" Fraiser and Tony Soprano have effed up mommy issues. And B) That I can't remember how the show "Fraiser" dealt with Hestor.

I'd love it if you had any insight into the silly meta connection between Fraiser Crane and Tony Soprano based solely by the fact the same actress played both of their mothers, and how "Fraiser" dealt with changing evil Hestor into Niles and Fraiser's dearly departed mother?