#227. Christopher Walken

What happens when you have an actor who won’t turn down any roles? Well, you’ll end up finding them in more movies than you had initially thought. Often, you’ll see them in bit parts and say to yourself, “Isn’t that so-and-so?” Some actors merely blend into the scenery and are harder to pick out, but not Christopher Walken. Especially in his more recent roles, Walken has embraced his look and his unique way of speaking, making him pretty easy to spot in the 100+ movies in which he has acted. Considering his career started in the mid-1960s, this prolific amount of acting is quite a feat in itself, mainly because he won’t turn down a role unless he’s too busy. With some years touting seven Christopher Walken films, it becomes apparent he is never too busy to act. This week’s two films focus on the recent and retro roles of Christopher Walken.

Seven PsychopathsSeven Psychopaths
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours

Perhaps one of the most imitated voices, Christopher Walken has found himself in plenty of comedies as of late. This is partly due to the comedic timing that lends itself to the erratic pauses made when he speaks. Now, it’s difficult to tell if he’s merely playing up this aspect of his popular culture appeal, but needless to say, most comedies he has appeared in have highlighted this trait. Although, the unintended consequence of being cast in a lot of comedies is that he is then associated with a lot of terrible movies. That being said, not all comedies have to be terrible. Sometimes they can be smart and clever, which Walken is still adept at portraying, regardless of some of the other movies in his filmography. One such comedy was Seven Psychopaths (2012), which gives Christopher Walken a chance to portray a well-rounded character, instead of merely a nod to popular culture.

Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken) has resorted to stealing dogs and returning them to their owners for a reward. Despite his religious beliefs, this is the only way he can find enough money to help pay for his wife’s cancer treatments. Providing assistance in this endeavor is Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), who steals a Shih Tzu by the name of Bonny. This dog belongs to just one of the eponymous “Seven Psychopaths,” Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). Billy and Hans’ friend, Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is struggling to write this titular screenplay, having only a few of the psychopath stories figured out. After telling Hans one of the stories, the “Quaker” reveals he was, in fact, one of the psychopaths in question, but now his wife has been killed, and the three have been chased into the desert for a final shootout with Charlie and his men.

The Deer HunterThe Deer Hunter
Year: 1978
Rating: R
Length: 183 minutes / 3.05 hours

With a career that’s been so long and filled with performances, it’s often forgotten that Christopher Walken has actually won an Academy Award for Acting. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor twice in his career: recently for his role in Catch Me if You Can (2002) and initially for his performance in The Deer Hunter (1978). This first nomination led to his eventual win of the Oscar, which means every trailer from then on out could use “Oscar-winning” next to their inclusion of Christopher Walken. The fact he’s also been in a few Best Picture nominees and winners gives credence to his ability as an actor, and not merely as a comic foil. If anything, the Oscar win early in his career allowed Walken to pursue any type of movie he would want to do, mainly because the pressure to win an Oscar has since been relieved.

In a small town in Pennsylvania, three friends are living their lives in their inevitable march toward matrimony and military. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steven (John Savage) are in the midst of celebrating Steven’s marriage and Nick’s engagement when they run across a Green Beret in a bar who has become disillusioned with the Vietnam War. With one last hunting trip, Mike holds to his “one-shot” mantra before the three are sent off to war. Years later, the three are trapped in a prisoner-of-war camp and forced to play Russian roulette for their captors’ amusement. In a risky move, Mike plays with three bullets and manages to take out all of the guards. Unfortunately, they get separated during their escape, and it takes years for Mike to find everyone, all in varying states of mental and physical decay.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 wonderful Walken performances

Bacon #: 2 (Homeboy / Mickey Rourke -> Diner / Kevin Bacon)

#226. Meta-writers

Many years ago, shortly after I started this blog, I wrote about the idea that a film could be “self-aware.” As a reminder, these films know what genres they are a part of, and use that to their advantage to poke fun at the genre, while also being fully complicit in it. The “awareness” of these movies is a behind-the-scenes nod to the audience to let them know everything they are watching is all in good fun. That being said, there are a few films out there that take the more out-in-front approach to “awareness.” These films not only show you they are aware of their existence; they often feature the writer of the plot as its main character. As such, the screenwriters of these movies would be considered “meta-writers,” since the film self-references itself via its writer protagonist (or antagonist). This week’s two films feature meta-writers.

Stranger than FictionStranger than Fiction
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

Narration can be an interesting way to tell a story. Sometimes, the narrator is the main character. Sometimes, the narrator is an eternal entity like God or Death. Sometimes, the narrator is a third-party observer. Whoever the narrator ends up being, they bring a personal touch to the plot because the story is being told by somebody. The most common forms of narrators are in stories that are either a first-person narration or a third-person omniscient. An author who does not want to constrain themselves to a single character will often use the latter “voice” when narrating a story. In this way, the audience will sometimes know more than the main character, adding to dramatic tension. But what if you suddenly started hearing the author’s voice, narrating your life in the third-person omniscient voice? What would you do?

Writer’s block is as much a problem for new writers as it is for experienced ones. Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is known for writing novels where the main character tragically dies, but she’s having trouble figuring out how to kill off her most recent character, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). To make things worse, one day Harold shows up at her home and says he’s been hearing her voice narrating his life. This revelation concerns Karen, who now wonders how many real people she has killed in her novels over the years. Unfortunately, this meeting leads to Karen finishing a draft of the final scenes where Harold is set to die. Having met Harold, she is conflicted with publishing this ending. While it would make the work a masterpiece with Harold’s death, she can’t bring herself to kill an innocent man who lives in the real world.

Seven PsychopathsSeven Psychopaths
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours

Much like the looping and repeated timelines that frequent science fiction films, many meta films will end up revealing their origins within the very story they are currently telling. A fine example of this would be the 2002 film, Adaptation. In it, the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (portrayed by Nicholas Cage) has some writer’s block as he attempts to adapt a book into a film. In the process of breaking through his block, he ends up writing himself into the film, thus resulting in the meta-writer recursion. If anything, these types of films allow for a fusion of the first-person narration and third-person omniscient voices, just due to the fact that the “god” who creates the story of the film is also often the main character. Another such example of the meta-writer recursion can be found in the 2012 action-comedy, Seven Psychopaths.

As is usually the case in these meta-writer films, Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter struggling to pad out his screenplay for Seven Psychopaths. He already has two or three of the psychopaths figured out, but when his friend, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), puts an ad in the local paper for any psychopaths in Los Angeles to contact Marty, he soon finds himself face-to-face with Zachariah Rigby (Tom Waits) a serial killer who killed serial killers. Meanwhile, Billy continues his dog-stealing business, which causes Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), another psychopath, to come after Billy and Marty after his Shih Tzu is stolen. To add to Charlie’s ire, Billy just killed his cheating girlfriend, revealing himself to be psychopaths #1 and #7. With their friend and fellow psychopath, Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken), the group heads to the desert to finish the manuscript and have a final shootout with Charlie.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 meta manuscripts