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Friday, December 21, 2012

Movies You Missed 69: Killer Joe

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 4:12 PM

This week in movies you missed: Matthew McConaughey goes sociopathic (and shows more than his chest) in a Southern-fried nightmare from the director of The Exorcist.

What You Missed

In deepest trailer-park Texas, young Chris (Emile Hirsch) has a problem. Someone stole his stash of cocaine, and now his suppliers want their money, or he’s dead. The prime suspect: his mother, with whom he has a less-than-cordial relationship. (“You hit her again?” someone asks, on learning he’s been kicked out of her house.) Chris approaches his thick-witted dad (Thomas Haden Church) and vampy, trampy stepmom (Gina Gershon) with a proposition that they hire a hitman to off the culprit, then split her life insurance policy, which is made out to his dotty sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).

The man they choose for the job is the titular Killer Joe Cooper (McConaughey), who is, conveniently for cover-up purposes, also a cop. But Joe isn’t willing to do the job on spec, and the “retainer” he has in mind is Dottie herself.

What could possibly go wrong?

Why You Missed It

Saddled with an NC-17 rating (for pretty good reasons), this indie from Exorcist director William Friedkin only hit 75 theaters, despite a script by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts (from his play) and McConaughey’s star power.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you’re eagerly awaiting Django Unchained, if you love Blood Simple, if you ate up the craziness of Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, hie thee to the video store to grab Killer Joe. If, on the other hand, movie violence — both physical and emotional — is the absolute last thing you want to see right now, you may want to give it a pass.

While this character-driven noir isn’t one of those films that involve people gleefully spraying other people with bullets, it is rude, crude, lewd and unabashedly enthusiastic about exploring very bad human behavior, with no redemption for anyone in sight. Think Tennessee Williams with a big side of John Waters. (There’s one really demented scene involving a fried chicken leg.) In other words, a probable future cult classic, but not for everyone.

To be honest, I’m not sure there was an ultimate point to Killer Joe besides painting a redneck family portrait in shades of lurid WTF-ery. But I won’t soon forget the creepy “romance” — if it is that — between Joe and Dottie. Is Dottie “simple,” is she a not-so-dreamy Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or is she just more honest than everybody else, as Friedkin claims in this fascinating, no-holds-barred interview? Maybe a little of all three. And there’s also something way off about Joe, who seduces her with reptilian grace, slithering his way into her fantasy life. It’s more than suggested that he puts her in a hypnotic trance.

It’s all more proof that a character-acting McConaughey is a good McConaughey. The character he creates here is genuinely scary at times, and way more interesting than your average movie psycho. Watching him in Killer Joe and last spring’s Bernie, I could totally forget McConaughey's shirtless participation in travesties such as Fool’s Gold. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while.

Verdict: Sit down in your own personal living-room drive-in/grindhouse and enjoy.

More New DVDs

10 Years (Channing Tatum and his real-life wife play friends at a high school reunion.)

Arbitrage

Backwards (James Van Der Beek in a romance about rowing.)

Beloved (generation-spanning musical from French director Christophe Honoré, with Catherine Deneuve)

The Good Doctor (Orlando Bloom tries to cure a young woman.)

Hermano (Venezuelan film about soccer player trying to escape the slums)

Kiss Me (Thirtysomething Swedish stepsisters fall in love.)

Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor directed and stars as an admissions officer falling for undergrad Elizabeth Olsen.)

Mansome (Morgan Spurlock takes on metrosexual masculinity.)

Red Hook Summer (Spike Lee’s latest is a tale about childhood.)

Sleepwalk With Me

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Movies You Missed 68: The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 11:37 PM

This week in movies you missed: A contrarian Film 101 course says no, the story of film is not all about Hollywood.

What You Missed

What are the “rules” of making movies? What does Taxi Driver have in common with a Godard film? How did film separate itself from theater? Who did the first movie close-up? The first editing? Who was the first movie star? How did Hollywood get so important?

All these questions are addressed in the first three episodes of The Story of Film, a highly idiosyncratic documentary series. Mark Cousins, a film historian from northern Ireland who likes to wear kilts (pictured) directed this 15-hour illustrated history of the art form based on his book of the same name.

It’s stuffed with clips from films ranging from the very familiar (Saving Private Ryan) to the much less so, at least for modern, Western moviegoers (groundbreaking silent films from Denmark, Shanghai and Japan). Cousins alternates these with recent footage of sites important to film history (Edison’s New Jersey, cities around the world) and oddball images he uses to illustrate his concepts. For instance, a shiny Christmas bauble represents Hollywood’s “romantic entertainment cinema” and shatters when arty innovators such as Carl Dreyer come along to break the rules.

Why You Missed It

Clocking in at 900 minutes, The Story of Film was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Cousins narrates the series, explaining the images to us. With a lilting Irish accent and a tendency to leave sentences hanging on an inconclusive up-note, he sounds like a parent trying to lull you to sleep by telling a thrilling bedtime story about the growth of a multibillion-dollar global industry ... very ... calmly ... and ... sleepily.

It might actually put you to sleep, if Cousins weren’t using his hypnotic tone to say deliberately provocative things, such as calling traditional film history “racist by omission” and asserting that films such as Casablanca are not “classics.” He’s like someone on serious downers reading a revolutionary political manifesto, a combination that grew on me. His collagistic, sometimes free-associating use of images didn’t hurt, either.

Its style issues and self-conscious contrarianism aside, The Story of Film is simply an absorbing film history. Cousins’ explanations of concepts like the “180-degree rule” are simple and clear, the jargon is minimal, and, best of all, you’ll get all kinds of new, cool-looking movies to add to your “To Watch” list. It’s time to stop complaining about how modern Hollywood puts out nothing but sequels and remakes and go watch The Wind and the films of Ozu, already. I only had time to see the first three hours of TSoF for this review, but I’m looking forward to the rest.

Verdict: If The Artist and Hugo made you want to watch silent films but you didn’t know where to start, Cousins should be your next stop.

More New DVDs

Advocate for Fagdom (doc about “queercore” filmmaker Bruce LaBruce)

The Bourne Legacy

“Futurama,” season 7

“Girls,” season 1

Half the Sky (miniseries about the global quest to improve women’s opportunities)

Miami Connection (cheapie cult classic from 1987, featuring a “martial arts rock band”)

Ted

Trade of Innocents (Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino deal with human trafficking)

Up Heartbreak Hill (doc about Native American teens)

Why Stop Now (Piano prodigy [Jesse Eisenberg] struggles with his drug-addicted mom [Melissa Leo].)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Movies You Missed 67: V/H/S

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 10:06 PM

This week in movies you missed: A slew of young horror directors bring us a found-footage anthology. But is it scary?

What You Missed

A group of twentysomething douchebags (sorry, the word fits) like to get unwilling or unwitting women naked on camera, then sell the footage online. While robbing a deserted house, they discover a corpse sitting in an armchair with a bunch of staticking TVs and stacks of videotapes. Rather than getting the hell out of there, they watch the tapes, each of which turns out to be a mini-horror flick:

In “Amateur Night,” directed by David Bruckner (The Signal), a group of partying frat bro types bring home a girl who turns out to be more voracious than they bargained for.

In “Second Honeymoon,” from Ti West (The House of the Devil), things go very wrong on a couple’s road trip through the Southwest.

“Tuesday the 17th,” from Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) is a standard cabin-in-the-woods plot with a video-related twist.

Mumblecore director Joe Swanberg brings us “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” in which the title character Skypes with her distant boyfriend from an apartment she fears is haunted.

In “10/31/98,” from the collective Radio Silence, we learn why it’s best to avoid spooky houses on Halloween, even if there’s supposedly a party inside.

Why You Missed It

V/H/S made the rounds of festivals but only reached 19 theaters. This is most definitely not PG-13 horror.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you’re a horror fan, you’ll probably want to check this out, and if you’re not, you almost certainly won’t. But for the record, here’s one horror fan’s reaction.

The segments that genuinely scared me were “Amateur Night,” “Second Honeymoon” and “The Sick Thing...” The first takes a long, long time to get creepy, and the other two have misguided twist endings that don’t make a ton of sense, but they all have their oh-shit moments.

I gather, however, that the internet fan consensus finds West’s segment too slow (it is pretty Blair Witch) and favors “10/31/98” for its creative, cheap effects. For me, that one was a little too hokey to be scary.

By far the worst segment is “Tuesday the 17th,” due to laughably wooden acting. Camp may have a place in slasher flicks, but not in found-footage horror.

I found V/H/S overall a seamy, seedy, almost dirty-feeling experience. That’s largely because the theme of guys trying to get girls to undress in front of the camera recurs in virtually every segment, usually leading to gratuitous nudity. Plus, every segment has white, entitled, twentysomething protagonists who seem to be almost begging for a comeuppance from the universe.

Were the filmmakers trying for some kind of commentary on sexual exploitation in horror, or is that aspect of the shorts just ... fan service? Perhaps some of both. But the creepy aura of voyeurism certainly fits the found-footage theme.

Verdict: When you give young male horror directors their way, they’re gonna put lots of boobs and blood on the screen. And, yes, some scares.

More New DVDs

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Butter (Jennifer Garner in a comedy about a Midwestern butter-sculpting competition)

The Dark Knight Rises

“Eastbound & Down,” season 3

Hope Springs (Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, couples therapy)

Last Ounce of Courage (Nonbelievers are waging war on Christmas, according to this inspirational drama.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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