Indie Roundup TIFF: ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ & ‘Berberian Sound Studio’

The talk of the fest continues to be “The Master,” especially after P. T. Anderson’s epic won a trio of awards at Venice yesterday. And while I’ve heard some very divergent reactions to the movie, everyone is saying that Joaquin Phoenix’s strikingly physical performance is astonishing. He’s all but a shoo-in, along with co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman, for an Oscar nomination come January. I’m looking forward to catching it tomorrow during its second press screening.

Another movie that’s been getting a lot of buzz is “Seven Psychopaths,” Martin McDonagh’s follow up to “In Bruge” (2008). I went to the midnight premiere on Friday, and while the crowd wasn’t quite whipped up to level of a K-Stew sighting, they very stoked. The line to get in extended the length of a very long block.

Like “In Bruge,” the movie is an uneasy pairing of comedic violence and weighty philosophizing. Or as star Colin Farrell summed it up during the post-screening Q&A, “This is most the violent movie I’ve seen about peace and love.”

[Related: Toronto International Film Festival Hub]

“Seven Psychopaths” centers on Martin (Colin Farrell) who while being a drunk, a flailing screenwriter, and an indifferent boyfriend is not a psychopath. Just about everyone else in the movie is. Case in point, his best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), a struggling actor who, along with his business partner Hans (Christopher Walken), kidnap dogs for the reward money. When they swipe the Shih-Tzu of dog-crazy gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), things get violent fast.

The first part of the movie starts off as an Elmore Leonard-esque crime comedy and it is wickedly funny. McDonagh’s ability to turn a phrase is rivaled only by Quentin Tarantino. Yet then this flick about blood-thirsty killers veers to critique of movie conventions about blood-thirsty killers. That’s right, McDonagh plays the meta card. The end of the movie, which by genre convention demands a spectacular shoot out, arrives at the expected showdown but with ironic quotation marks around it. I ended up having the same qualms about this film as I had with “In Bruge”: the arch cartoony characters never seemed to be able to quite bear the philosophical and emotional weight forced onto them during the latter half of the movie. But the way that McDonagh delves into ideas of violence and pacifism are original. And pretty hilarious.

[Related: Bonny, the dog from “Seven Psychopaths,” stole the show at Friday night’s TIFF premiere]

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance’s first film was the critically-lauded tearjerker “Blue Valentine” (2010). That movie detailed the beginning and grueling end of a love affair between blue collar dreamer Ryan Gosling and his gal Michelle Williams with such acuity and nuance that you might just start reliving your own awful breakups. “Blue Valentine” is everyone’s favorite movie that no one wants to see twice.

For his follow up — “The Place Beyond the Pines” — Cianfrance goes big. This is an ambitious, sprawling work about fate, revenge and inheritance with some major risks; there are two or three very unexpected narrative left-turns in the movie. Whether or not they pay off is something I’m still mulling over.

Gosling once again stars. This time he plays Luke, a circus motorcycle stunt driver covered in a series of unfortunate prison tattoos. The film opens with a show-stopping opening extended single shot that shows Gosling donning a leather jacket, exiting his trailer, crossing a fairgrounds, entering a circus tent, jumping on a motorcycle and then, along with his two colleagues, driving in circles within a perilously small metal sphere as the crowd cheers. After the show, he runs into a Romina (Eva Mendes), a local gal that he had a fling with the previous year. It turns out that one-night stand begat a son. Luke immediately quits his job and vows to help look after the baby even though he now doesn’t have any way of supporting himself, and Romina has already found a decent man to help raise the kid. Desperate to prove himself and win the girl, Luke turns to robbing banks. This section of the movie is great, tense, kinetic and thrilling. Gosling delivers a performance that’s halfway between the man-child vulnerability of “Blue Valentine” and the cool brutality of “Drive.”

[Related: At the “Place Beyond the Pines” TIFF premiere, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper hug it out following their ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ scandal]

Without giving too much away, the first of those narrative left-turns results in Bradley Cooper taking over the movie. And as we see Luke’s actions unwittingly launch Cooper’s character’s political career, you kind of can’t help but to compare the two actors. In a duel between two of the Sexiest Men Alive, the dude with the prison tattoos always wins.

Berberian Sound Studio

The importance of sound in movies never gets the respect it deserves. Though people might remember a striking image from a film, it’s the sound that carries the mood, tension, and the story. As one of my old film school teachers used to say, “Audiences will put up with a crappy image, but if the sound’s bad, hang it up.” “Berberian Sound Studio” is one of the few movies I can think of that really explores the crafting of cinematic sound. Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, a fragile, exceedingly English sound engineer who ventures to Italy to help create all the screams and splats of a deliriously overripe giallo horror movie. As Gilderoy hacks and hurls his way through piles of watermelons, tomatoes and heads of cabbage to get just the right effect, and as he listens to the movie’s actresses record one scream after another, his sanity starts to slip. The studio’s gorgeous, contemptuous secretary and its hectoring, ill-tempted producer do little to help his mental health. “Berberian Sound Studio” has the same lurid visual slickness as giallo masters like Dario Argento, but when Gilderoy really goes off the deep end, punctuated by lingering shots of rotting vegetables, the movie verges on Lynch territory. Never has cabbage looked more threatening.

Watch the ‘Seven Psychopaths’ Trailer:

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September 2012

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