October 12 will see the release of two festival favorites directed by past Oscar recipients. Not that an Oscar should mean terribly too much to any one person, but it definitely holds some weight. The two filmmakers in question are Martin McDonagh and Ben Affleck. Known respectively as an accomplished playwright and a marginal actor, the former holds his Oscar for Six Shooter, 2005’s Best Live Action Short, while the other holds his for Best Original Screenplay for 1998’s Good Will Hunting. We all probably know a bit much more than we would like to about Mr. Affleck, but McDonagh doesn’t really get the spotlight shone on him too much, so if you’ll allow me, I’m going to give you a bit of back-story.
Over the course of nine months in 1994, while his brother was attending screenwriting courses at USC, Martin McDonagh quit his job, sat around, and wrote plays. He ended up writing drafts for seven of them and spent the next couple of years trying to get one produced. Being that he was a new voice and his plays tended to be very violent and carried a wickedly dark sense of humor, it is totally reasonable that people were potentially put off by his offerings. But perseverance prevailed, and two years later, in 1996, his goal was realized when a production of his play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, premiered at the Town Hall Theatre Galway. After making its off-Broadway debut two years later, it was awarded with six Tony nominations including one for Best Play. In 1997, between both openings, he had successfully premiered two more plays in what has now become known as the Leenane Trilogy, the two follow-ups being A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West, the latter of which earned McDonagh his second Tony nomination, again for Best Play, in 1999.
His other trilogy, called the Aran Islands trilogy, written in the same nine months, includes The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Banshees of Inisheer, has also earned him a Tony nomination (for Inishmore). Save for Banshees, which has never been produced due to it’s not being “any good”, the first two have seen several productions around the world, most especially in his native United Kingdom, where it might be of interest to note, he is known for being the only playwright to have four plays in production on the West End at once, other than William Shakespeare. In 2005, the same year he received his last Tony nomination (for The Pillowman, the last of his seven play writing spree), he won his first Oscar. As mentioned before, it was for a short titled Six Shooter, which starred Brendan Gleeson as a recent widower aboard a train, and his interactions with a disturbed child. McDonagh’s feature debut, In Bruges, was released in 2008 and once again featured Gleeson, this time sharing top billing with Colin Ferrell. Posting a decent enough box office in its initial release, the film has since cultivated a cult audience and ended up earning McDonagh another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Original Screenplay.
Our other filmmaker in question, Ben Affleck, first came into our collective awareness through his acting in Kevin Smith’s early few films, which gained cult audiences in of themselves. He gained mainstream popularity and stardom through his romantic exploits and a string of films that include Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil and Hollywoodland. In 2007 he made his directorial debut with the well-received Gone Baby Gone. People took notice of a more mature Affleck, one who abandoned the spotlight and gave his brother Casey Affleck, a very good and underused actor, the lead. His follow-up to that, The Town, in 2010, proved his worth even further as a director and gave audiences and critics a side of that more mature artist, this time both in front and behind the camera.
An ever-occurring and lamentable reality in film (which looks as though it may have a chance in being somewhat upended in the next ten years), both films feature great male-centric ensembles.
Psychopaths, an original screenplay, centers on a screenwriter (Colin Ferrell), who is struggling with writer’s block on his latest venture, Seven Psychpaths (get it?!), and ends up getting involved with his friends’ (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) dog napping scheme. Things then take a turn for the worse when they steal the beloved Shih Tzu of a known gangster and sociopath (Woody Harrelson).
Argo, based on a Wired article published in 2007, relays events based on the true story of six escaped American diplomats, who during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis took refuge in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), with the help of associate Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), recruit Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to stage a location scout for the fictional sci-fi blockbuster Argo, with the aim of bringing the hostages back as crew members on said film, thus guaranteeing their safety.
Both films began filming in 2011 and have since had their premiers at the Toronto Film Festival, gaining several favorable reviews. Currently Seven Psychopaths holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%, while Argo keeps up the pace with a cool 94%. When unleashed upon the remaining critics and public, who’s to say where they’ll stand but I’d venture a guess that they’re both pretty safe bets considering all the factors at play within both.
Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and John Goodman are three of my favorite actors and I will sometimes go out of my way just for them, Walken not the case as often as he’s pretty sketchy at times when choosing his movies. I’m also glad Colin Ferrell has finally reached the point that he has in his career to be starring in major films, I always kinda felt he would be better suited for character work, much like Rockwell, but it’s all very interesting nonetheless. Cranston as well, after Breaking Bad finishes it’s run in the near future, it’ll be very interesting to see where he goes. Like I said, great talent in front of the camera…
As far as the directors go, I’m pumped for both films and although I charted Psychopaths since it’s announcement, after I watched the trailer for Argo, I got really excited. I was a big fan of The Town and felt it was a sure, and career defining turn. I’m hoping Psychopaths isn’t one of the cases where all the best parts were included in the trailer, as is more often the case than not. I thought his first feature, In Bruges, was absolutely incredible and I still would put it in most any Top 10 list relating to the past decade. That being said, for me, McDonagh seems to have a lot more to live up to, as I’m also a huge fan of his theater work, and visually, In Bruges did leave a little something to be desired. I think my biggest worry overall is that it’s being distributed through CBS Films, having been around for 5 years they have managed to not once pick up a good movie. Affleck I’m a little less concerned about because he’s a solid craftsman through and through and with the producers he has helping him out (George Clooney and Grant Heslov), I feel fairly confident it will at least turn out a great entertainment.
This year has kind of thrown me off quite a bit in that most of the huge tent pole films (The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Hunger Games), as well as the art-house ones (Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, To Rome With Love) I was really looking forward to watching actually ended up being quite terrible, or at best, just okay. So I’m holding out hope that these two might just liven up my year a bit.
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