Martin McDonagh has only made three films to far. This is the worst of the lot and it's still a fantastic movie. This should tell you something about the guy.
It's "worse" than the subversive brilliance of In Bruges or the ice-cold morality lesson of Three Billboards not because it's less clever than the former or more shallow than the latter, but simply because it's not very focused, but rather a "scattershot" of characters and ideas, some of them divergent and not really belonging in the same story.
Here, McDonagh practically went full meta, writing a film about Colin Farrell's Marty, a screenwriter trying to write a film about Seven Psychopaths and not knowing where to start. I'm not spoiling anything more about the plot: it's crazy, whip-smart, self-ironic in the best way possible and the dialogue as quotable as it is revealing: both about the characters and about the genre as a whole.
This film is the way McDonagh tells the world that, as a writer, he's as in love with movies as he is critical of them. Unfortunately, he does this by sometimes intentionally leaving the story aside for his own slightly self-indulgent rhetoric about tropes and form, and he does so in order to prove a series of points to the audience, but for some it might end up a little too distracting.
The acting is top-notch from virtually everyone, and the cast is filled with some impressive names. We see top form Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell, a hilarious villainous turn from Woody Harrelson, as well as a much expected return to form from Christopher Walken. I still think that McDonagh is the only director who could ever truly tap into the well of dramatic and comedic potential that is Colin Farrell.
Therefore, Seven Psychopaths is a must see, especially for those interested in tongue-in-cheek commentaries on storytelling.
Love and Monsters reminds me of the past in the best way possible. Behind its otherworldly premise and world building there's a really sensible, straight-forward film about growing up in the spirit of the 80s, self-discovery voice-over and all.
Dylan O'Brien is the kind of young actor who definitely has the makings of a leading man with a pinch of underdog and this is the first serious film that finally allows him to show this persona to the public. I'm saying "serious film" not because this film takes itself too seriously (it doesn't), but because it shoots exactly where it aims: in the realm of good, thoughtful action-adventure for the whole family.
O'Brien's protagonist, Joel, is a cowardly, but well-meaning nerd stuck inside a bunker with a bunch of brave and confident people during a monster apocalypse and his shortcomings drive him to go "out in the world" (both literally and figuratively) to find Aimee (Jessica Henwick), his long lost love. It's a tame and predictable starting point for a script, but it quickly turns into a good story by introducing funny and compelling supporting characters and bold concepts.
Nothing went wrong in Love and Monsters, and if it did, it's justified by the film's overall freshness. It should not have a sequel though. That would only ruin everything, sadly, as many sequels do.
Promising newcomer Kelly O'Sullivan is the screenwriter and star of Saint Frances, one of the most thoughtful and empathic indies of the past years. The film follows Bridget, a woman in her thirties with no direction in life, finding solace and understanding in the unlikeliest of people after an abortion that she's trying really hard to diminish and deny: she becomes good friends with the titular Frances, the six-year-old she's babysitting, daughter of two strong women, as different from each other as they are from Bridget herself.
Director Alex Thompson deftly avoid over-dramatizing anything in Bridget's life. Instead, he lets her come every single realization that she's supposed to. This is certainly the least walked path in stories about growing up and finding yourself, and it's the best choice here. While a more voice-over pestered, dramatic, on the nose direction makes such a story seem filled with artificial preaching, Thompson's choice to let the camera merely observe the humanity in the character unfold makes for a mostly authentic experience: it allows us to choose to empathize with them rather than "force the empathy on us".
I'm saying "them" because all characters are genuine and complex. Every single one of them goes through a believable arc, from the well-meaning, slightly naive father of the aborted child to Frances' stern, no nonsense working mother to the other mother, the one that's actually forced to raise Frances and her new-born child, finding herself more and more estranged from her family. The dynamics created between each female character in the film are fascinating, feeding from layers and layers of internal and external conflict.
Saint Frances is a textbook small scope, personal drama, no unnecessary pretension or inflated sense of self. I wish more indies would take this path.
I'm going to call this an experimental film. Not for any innovations in form or genre, not for some exquisite, complicated purpose, but for its relentless stubbornness to never, under any circumstance, show any signs of light through the darkness.
We have all seen movies rejoicing and thriving in getting us lower and lower into an abyss of misery and suffering, we have all seen proudly depressing movies, but I, personally, have never seen a movie refusing time and again to let go of the darkness. And this is not a good thing. Lilya 4-ever is, at the end of the day, gratuitously dark. It pretty much made its point thirty minutes into the script, but then it just kept overselling it, just for the sake of showing us that it's gritty and balsy.
Good job, Lukas Moodysson, you are edgy as hell and you did manage to be so in a story that's more than coherent, if a little too exaggerated for a film with cinéma vérité aspirations. The soundtrack is overdone, the dream sequences a little too... on the nose and the acting isn't even that good except for lead Oksana Akinshina. On top of that, I really don't like a movie that makes me want to cry in the shower every twenty minutes without giving me a little hope at the end. I'm sorry, but ultimately experimental does not equate to good.
I can safely say this one aged pretty fine. It's the first one that Paul Thomas Anderson made in his twenties, showcasing an unnatural cinematic maturity and predicting a great career.
Hard Eight has an abundance of PTA's signature clean, crisp shots and incredibly well thought out compositions and its plot is more than digestible, but what's actually remarkable about it is Anderson's perpetual rejection of the genre norms and rules. He makes a memorable gambling movie not by adhering to paths walked before, but by enforcing his own, peculiar pacing and telling his actors to do his signature slightly deadpan line deliveries, just to make them be more and more emotional as the story advances and we got to meet them more and more.
John C. Reilly gets to lead and does so marvellously, Gwyneth Paltrow shows a lot of vulnerability in her role as a prostitute love interest for the protagonist and Samuel L. Jackson is a breath of fresh air a more contained character than his usual flashy self. However, the star of the show is Philip Baker Hall who, some might argue, is the actual protagonist of Hard Eight instead of Reilly.
Very rarely do we get to see a mentor-mentee type film told from the point of view of the mentor and not the disciple. His character's motivations, together with his own impeccable acting, are the real engine of Anderson's vision. This vision does have some hit or miss moments (it's arguably PTA's "weakest" film, but still remarkable), but this does to blunt its melancholic sting.