Saturday, June 30, 2012

KILLER JOE - some thoughts from Bina007

KILLER JOE is a visceral and provocative trash-noir film from director William Friedkin - most famous for THE EXORCIST - but more similar in tone to his more recent tour-de-force examination of mutual psychosis, BUG. Shot in three weeks on a $10m budget, KILLER JOE has a similarly creepy, violent, sexually tense, sleazy atmosphere, and is similarly tightly written - and it comes as no surprise that both movies were based on plays written by Tracy Letts, of Steppenwolf Theater fame. 

The movie focusses on a messed up southern family - dumb naive father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church); sexually provocative stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon); failed drug-dealer son Chris (Emile Hirsch) and the apparently mentally disturbed daughter Dottie (Juno Temple).  The family live in a trailer, want to bump off Ansel's first wife for the insurance money, and hire Matthew McConaughey's Killer Joe to do the job. Trouble is, he wants more than money - he wants the sexually naive Dottie.

The resulting thriller is both a film of double crosses in the standard style, but also a psychological drama about Dottie (Juno Temple) - her violent childhood; her twisted virginity; her seduction; her escape.  More widely, it's about Killer Joe bringing the entire family under his control, resulting in the two set piece scenes of sexual power - the aforementioned with Dottie, that's really at the centre of the film - and the second, likely to become the film's notorious calling card, involving Sharla and a piece of fried chicken.

It's no surprise to find that these scenes have provoked unease in viewers, and in its final reel, the movie really does just go crazy with the violence.  But what I found most disturbing wasn't the movie's violence (particularly toward women) but its humour. Because, make no mistake, this film is funny, particularly in its depiction of caricature  tuna-casserole-eating white-trash.  The genius of the film is, then, Friedkin's ability, to walk the tight-wire between dark comedy, and genuinely horrific violence, in a way that, say, Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, didn't.  I also rather like the casting - Juno Temple is particularly impressive as Dottie, but the real genius move is the casting of McConaughey.  Friedkin has realised that McConaughey's too perfect, too manicured beauty is slightly unnerving and creepy, and harnessed that for the Killer Joe persona - the knowing, sleazy, seductive bad cop.

KILLER JOE is on release in the UK. It opens in the USA on July 27th; in Finland on August 10th; in Russia on August 23rd; in France on September 5th; in Belgium on September 26th; and in the Netherlands on November 8th.

Friday, June 29, 2012


FRIENDS WITH KIDS, like FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, is a movie that wants to seem transgressive and "real" but can't resist it's Hollywood rom-com ending.  The result in both cases is a rather banal 2 hour wait for the hero and heroine, so obviously in love with each other, to realise it at the same time, allowing a conventional loved up ending.

The opening is promising.  Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are two singletons in a group of friends that have had kids, and are blissfully smug about how their friends are just tired, frustrating kid-centric banalities.  Of course, this movie, written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, doesn't have the balls to really examine what would happen if you rejected that lifestyle, but instead decided to make the two singletons unite to have a baby, while trying to date independently.  Of course, as soon as the baby is born they both find what they might have previously thought was their Ideal 0 he gets the young hot chick (Megan Fox) and she gets the sensitive nice guy (Ed Burns). But because the movie can't end after an hour, Julie has to realise she's in love with Jason a few years before he reciprocates her feelings.  As if that were ever in doubt.

The movie is not without its delights.  There are a few scabrous and raucous scenes - typically involving John Hamm and Kristen Wiig as a deeply unhappy couple.  But the movie just isn't as transgressive as it thinks it is, and it's about as authentic as Chris O'Dowd's American accent.  The second hour really is a struggle too wade through.  In short, just another will-they-won't-they-oh-please-get-on-with-it rom-com.  I'm sad to say that Jennifer Westfeldt has form with this.  She pulled the same tease in KISSING JESSICA STEIN, a rom-com in which a girl thinks she's gay - which is a really interesting set up - but the movie then devolves into banality.  Not a director who's work I'll be seeking out in future. 

FRIENDS WITH KIDS played Toronto 2011 and was released earlier this year in the USA, Greece, Israel, Sweden, Russia, Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Australia, Peru and Slovenia. It opens this weekend in the UK, Ireland, Finland and Serbia. It opens on July 5th in the Netherlands, July 12th in Argentina nad Bulgaria, August 1st in France, August 22nd in Belgium and Chile, on September 5th in Hong Kong and on November 9th in Turkey.

The film is rated R and has a running time of 107 minutes. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

KILLER JOE - in which Matthew McConaughey is, for once, not just a pretty face.

This review is brought to you by Alex:

Killer Joe’s US movie poster features a bloodied piece of fried chicken. This probably tells you all you need to know about what to expect from the latest piece by William Friedkin (director; The Exorcist, The French Connection). Based on Tracey Letts’ play and screen adaptation and exploring the seedy underbelly of American society, this film does not disappoint.

The Smith family are archetypal trailer-trash, bit parts straight from an episode of My Name is Earl or Eastbound and Down. The best thing that can be said about father Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church) is that he knows he is stupid. Gina Gershon is masterfully cast as his second wife Sharla, as feisty as she’s slutty, and no fan of Ansel’s hapless son Chris from a previous marriage. Juno Temple plays Chris’ younger sibling Dottie.  They concoct a plan to pay off debts owed by the hapless loser Chris to a local loan shark, by arranging for “Killer Joe” to rub out Chris’ mother Adele. Chris plans to collect her life insurance in Dottie’s name. Matthew McConaughey is counter-intuitively cast as Joe, a local policeman who moonlights as an assassin.

Surprisingly, McConaughey doesn’t disappoint and manages to step outside of his typical Rom Com repertoire to play the title role memorably, one part smooth-talking gigolo-cum-southern gentleman, the other part malevolent predator.

Of course, in true film-noir style the plan goes very wrong, and we see the family twist and swing, throttled by the Gordian knot of their situation as it worsens each time they try to fix it once and for all. It’s very enjoyable to watch, and tension builds to a climactic final scene where we learn exactly how sadistic and evil Joe really is.  Violence is unflinching but interspersed with humour, and characters turn on a dime, one moment charismatic, the next skin-crawlingly vile. Friedkin, who I was fortunate enough to hear in Q&A after the premiere, has said that his work is about the thin line between good and evil in us all. It’s a theme the film forces us to reflect upon.

His examination of the subaltern world of the South-Western United States, where even policemen are crooked and feared, suits the director’s tonal nod to Grindhouse cinema. In fact several scenes seem to have come with specific acting direction towards that genre.

Indeed, Kurt Russell’s unexpectedly good turn in Tarantino’s Grindhouse homage “Death Proof” is reminiscent of McConaughey’s role here as the eponymous Joe. Friedkin has really managed to bring something new out of the actor, and he is fun to watch.

The rest of the cast fits snugly into this hybrid noir-trash flick genre, especially the feral Emil Hirsch as Chris (worth checking out in “Into the Wild”). Relative newcomer Juno Temple (soon to be seen in “The Dark Knight Rises”) portrays Dottie superbly, Lolita-like in her innocence and subversive sexual power. It is Dottie’s control over Joe that is the lynchpin of the plot and as such Temple carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. She acquits herself fully.

Richly deserving of its NC-17 rating in the US, Friedkin’s oddball approach to directing will be called violent and misogynist by his critics. I’ll leave that to the reader to decide, but he has managed to imbue inanimate objects (a tin of pineapple chunks, a fried chicken-leg, a watch carefully removed and laid on a table as foreplay to brutality) with trauma in such a way that the viewer can’t fail to be reminded of the roles they play in this film long, after they have left the cinema. This is part of what makes Killer Joe refreshing. I’m sure I’ll be watching it again soon.

KILLER JOE played Venice, Toronto and Sitges 2011, and SXSW 2012. It opens this weekend in the UK, and on July 27th in the USA. It opens on August 10th in Finland; August 23rd in Russia; September 5th in France; September 26th in Belgium; and in the Netherlands on November 8th.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Stephen Frears is a perplexing director, who has gone from auteur indie director in the 1980s (MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE) to a director-for-hire of bland, rather mediocre films with no consistent theme (THE QUEEN).  He turns up here, helming LAY THE FAVORITE, a movie based on the real-life story of Beth Raymer, a stripper turned bookmaker's runner, who got mixed up in illegal gambling.  

As played by Brit Rebecca Hall, Beth is a sweet, comical, blowsy stripper-with-a-heart, and is it turns out, a cool head for figures. Hall's accent is high-pitched and pitch-perfect - a kind of believable version of Mira Sorvino's Woody Allen stripper.  She comes to Vegas for a better life and ends up book-running for Bruce Willis' typically laconic legal bookie, Dink, much to the chagrin of Dink's insecure wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). This gives rise to the one good tragicomic joke of the film - Dink can take Beth back as a runner so long as his insecure wife can have a face lift.  But of course, it doesn't work out and in the second half of the film Beth moves to New York and works for Rosie (Vince Vaughn, also playing himself).   Trouble is, Rosie is operating in a jurisdiction where gambling is illegal, and poor naive Beth is laying herself open to trouble. 

Of course, all ends well. It's that kind of movie. Day-glo bright, in which a young pretty girl will be mildly exploited  but ultimately cared for by good kind people. There's none of the dirt and danger and darkness of a movie like 21, and no real attempt to explain to viewers exactly how the system works. The result is a movie that is, at best, light and frothy. Another opportunity to see Vince Vaughn do his motormouth schtick that he's been doing since SWINGERS. But it's ultimately forgettable and hardly worth the candle. 

LAY THE FAVORITE played Sundance 2012 and opens this weekend in the UK and Ireland. It opens on July 19th in Germany, on August 8th in France, on August 23rd in Denmark, on September 7th in Turkey, on November 2nd in Estonia, on December 7th in the USA,  on January 13th in the Netherlands and on March 28th in Russia.

The movie is rated R and has a running time of 94 minutes.

Friday, June 22, 2012


THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is a banal, over-long romantic comedy firmly in the will-they-won't-they-oh-get-on-with-it.  Jason Segel and Emily Blunt as two people so manifestly right for each other, that one can only lose respect for them and their relationship by the amount of faux-obstacles they put in the way of the final, compulsory, over-the-top, wedding scene.  

He's a successful San Francisco chef who moves with her to Michigan for he dream university job. Reduced to selling tacos he becomes resentful, and she resents his resentment.  A mild indiscretion on each side leads to a temporary break-up and a third act epiphany and reconciliation.  I say that very quickly - in reality it's an hour of really dull cinema. 

Whatever comedy there is, is provided by Community's Alison Brie as Blunt's sister, complete with pitch perfect English accent, and her husband. They even steal the show at the leading couple's wedding!  Poor Rhys Ifans is saddled with the most unbelievable Professor in film, and Mindy Kaling, as his research assistant, is utterly wasted. 

What's really sad is that the dilemma posed by this movie is a real one. Lots of us have been in relationships where one person has to take a back seat to the other's career, whether because someone had to move to get a degree or a job, or whatever. It's a real everyday problem.  This movie had the potential to introduce some authentic, clever, observational comedy.  But I'm guessing that neither screenwriter has been in that position and that neither really gets it.

Overall, this is the second piss-poor film that Jason Segel and writer-director Nicholas Stoller have been involved with since GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. Enough already.  

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT was released earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Serbia, Slovenia and Taiwan. It is released today in the UK, Ireland and Lithuania. It opens next weekend in Croatia, the Netherlands, Russia, Poland and Turkey. It opens on July 5th in Israel, on July 12th in Germany, on August 1st in Belgium and France, on August 10th in Mexico, on September 7th in Spain, and on September 28th in Italy.

The movie is rated R and is 124 minutes too long.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


COSMOPOLIS is a steaming pile of pretentious wank. This may well be the point. Either way, it's boring as hell. Robert Pattinson plays a young Wall Street "big swinging dick" stuck in a limousine for a day as he tries to cross town for a haircut but is trapped in heinous traffic by a presidential motorcade and anti-capitalist protesters  En route, he meets his wife, lovers, advisors and a doctor. All of these people, and the antihero himself, speak in a bored self-assured monotone. Mostly they speak in nonsensical platitudes. There are no emotions, and little real intellect. They are trapped in a slick process, and smugly content there. When the antihero's wife says "it hurts" she shows no emotion. Her husband responds by telling her "my prostrate is asymmetrical".  It's all basically bollocks, especially the bits where Cronenberg (or maybe source author David Cronenberg) try to construct dialogue that refers to central banks or any actual financial happenings.

Is this how the creative industry views Wall Street? A bunch of humourless, self-deluded, pretentious, vapid cyborgs? Because it's nonsense.  If you want to really know about Wall Street and its ethics you can watch MARGIN CALL.  Because COSMPOLIS is nothing more than beautifully produced but alienating and alienated nonsense. And as for the ending, don't even get me started on just how massively Cronenberg pussies out.

COSMOPOLIS played Cannes 2012 and opened earlier this year in France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hungary, Portugal, Croatia, the Netherlands and Canada. It opens this weekend in the UK and Ireland. It opens on June 22nd in Poland, June 28th in Israel, July 20th in Russia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, on August 2nd in Australia, on August 9th in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Ukraine and Turkey, on August 16th in Slovenia and the USA,  on August 21st in Finland, on September 7th in Brazil and Sweden; on September 13th in Hong Kong, on September 27th in Greece, on October 11th in Spain and on November 8th in Argentina.

COSMOPOLIS is rated R and has a running time of 109 minutes.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

IRON SKY - Moon nazis!

There are lots of movie with hilarious titles, but few that live up to them. (SNAKES ON A PLANE, I'm looking at you.)  IRON SKY is, on the whole, a movie that's worth checking out.  After all, it would take a total bah-humbug kill-joy not to enjoy a movie who's concept is Moon Nazis!  The idea is that in the final days of World War II, the Nazis sent a colony to the Moon, which has since gathered strength and is now returning to invade a near-future USA run by Sarah Palin.

First off, for what is presumably a low-budget feature, the movie looks fantastic. All the space effects, space-station sets and costumes are superb, and the scenes on the moon are definitely the best in the film.   Second, the movie has a handful of absolutely on-point black-comedy moments. Like when the Moon Nazis use a highly edited version of Chaplin's Hitler spoof, THE GREAT DICTATOR, to make it look like its Hitler propaganda.  Or when the President's aide tries to tell her Moon Nazis are coming and she thinks that it's merely a WAG THE DOG like set-up to get her re-elected. Or when she totally identifies with the Blut und Boden values of the Nazis.   

That said, the movie has its weaknesses. Half the time the humour is just too broad for my liking, and veers from black satire to cheap lampoon. I guess that's just what you have to expect from an Udo Kier movie. I didn't particularly get or feel comfortable with the plot line that sees a US soldier turned white. And Sarah Palin is a pretty easy target. My suspicion is that there is a very funny, more intelligent 45 minute short film hiding underneath this baggy full-length feature.

IRON SKY played Berlin and SXSW 2012. It was released earlier this year in Finland, Norway, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Poland, Australia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Ireland, the UK and Fiji. It will be released in Romania on June 22nd, in Singapore on June 28th, in Lithuania on June 29th, in the Czech Republic, Russia and Slovakia on July 12th and in New Zealand on August 12th.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

PROMETHEUS - all that sound and fury....

...signifying nothing.  

PROMETHEUS is a visually stunning, beautifully acted film that makes absolutely  no sense. Apart from a couple of obligatory gore-fest alien-parasite-attack scenes, there's no sense of creeping menace. No fear that in space no-one hears you scream.  Instead, we get two hours of an attempt at a deep philosophical discussion of faith versus science, creators versus created. Tragically, the writers simply do not have the intellectual chops, or the focus, or the respect for the audience to see it through. The result is a movie that plays more like a drama than a thriller, and certainly doesn't play like horror.  A film that frustrates far more than it entertains.  I didn't watch LOST myself, but  I know enough frustrated fanboys to suggest that the blame for this missed opportunity sits firmly on the shoulders of Damon Lindelof, the script-writing genius who also messed up with COWBOYS & ALIENS last year.

The movie kicks off in the not too distant future, around 200 years before the events in ALIEN.  A private corporation has sponsored a scientific mission to a planet who's co-ordinates have been painted in prehistoric caves. The scientists Shaw and Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Charlie Holloway) believe they are going to discover the creators of humanity.  The crew, helmed by Vickers (Charlize Theron) just want to get in and out quickly. All but the slippery cylon, David (Michael Fassbender) who has an agenda that is never really explained  in the course of the film.  Naturally the crew land on a planet which was once apparently peopled by a race of creators, or "engineers", who have since been wiped out by the aliens we all know and fear. All of which begs several questions.  Do the engineers mean humanity well?  Does David mean humanity well? Were the aliens a messed up experiment that got out of hand? Who created the aliens? And who created the engineers?  All of these questions will apparently be answered in a sequel, but frankly, do we care?

This movie, with its superb performances (particularly from Rapace and Fassbender) and beautiful landscapes (Darius Wolszki) could've been astoundingly good, if only it had been more focussed in exploring its themes.  For instance, if David is inspired by Lawrence of Arabia, then let's take that further.  Lawrence is a fascinating character with very specific notions of the interaction between the rulers and ruled, which could've been used here.  If Shaw is a scientist exploring creation who refuses to give up her faith, let's really explore the provocative inconsistencies there.  If David is going all HAL, let's explore that,  And if Vickers is really going to have a relationship revelation near the end, let's explore that rather than just tossing it into the mix for a nanosecond. 

So, basically, worth seeing for the visuals and the acting, but utterly, utterly frustrating.

PROMETHEUS is on release in the UK, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Sweden and Turkey. It opens on June 7th in the USA, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Serbia, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Croatia, Hungary, Kuwait, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Canada, Egypt, Estonia, India, Lithuania and Romania. It opens on June 15th in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. It opens on June 22nd in Vietnam, on June 28th in Cambodia, on July 20th in Poland, on August 9th in Germany and Spain, and on October 19th in Italy.

Friday, June 01, 2012


There's a lot to love and a lot that doesn't work in this radical new adaptation of the Snow White fairy-tale from debut feature director Rupert Sanders.  

The stuff to love centres around the characterisation of the wicked stepmother, Ravenna.  She's written and played as a deeply insecure, emotionally scarred woman who has had to use her beauty to survive in a misogynistic patriarchy where women are sold as chattel and discarded when their looks fade.  There's a superb scene early on, when she's addressing the mirror on the wall, where we move to the perspective of her brother, and we're not sure if the Queen is just imagining it all.  Charlize Theron is absolutely stunning in the role - both in terms of the costume design and her performance. And fans of Games of Thrones will forever regret that she wasn't given the role of Cersei Lannister, more of which later. I was so involved in the story of Ravenna, that in the movie's final battle scene, I was willing her to win. She reminded me of Edmund in Lear, with his radical, demonic argument for meritocracy against the old established order.

Other things to love in this movie? As one might expect given Sanders background in commercials, the visuals are beautifully shot.  Indeed, one of the strengths and weaknesses of the film is that the narrative often feels like a weak excuse to get us from one beautifully imagined background to another.  The motivations for the moves, the narrative drive, seems secondary to the indulgently imagined costumes and scenery.

The tragedy is that all this beauty and Theron's wonderful performance is wasted upon a movie that is poorly paced, and plays like a second-class echo of better imagined fantasy worlds, created by George R R Martin, C S Lewis and Tolkien.  The character of Ravenna, complete with her incestuous relationship with her brother Finn (a marvellously creepy Sam Spruell) is straight out of House Lannister. As is the visual use of sigils and banner-men.  Snow White's long journey through different worlds before she finally faces off against Ravenna is straight out of the Lord of the Rings, with the dwarves recast as hobbits and Bob Hoskins' blind seer as Gandalf. And finally, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has been recast as an Aslan like figure, reciting the Lord's Prayer in full (surely a first for modern teen cinema?), exhibiting healing powers over man and nature, and finally not even sealing the denouement with a kiss - rather standing alone, in power, neuter, a Virgin Queen.

This, of course, brings us to the weakest aspect of the film - its romantic core. Stewart's resentful mopey screen persona is ill-fitted to an active, action heroine who must imspire a people to revolt.  Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman is more charismatic but suffers from an unhappy attempt at a Scottish (?) accent.  It's not as bad as Russell Crowe's attempt at regional English in ROBIN HOOD, but it's still unfortunately reminiscent of Mike Myers in SHREK. Still, the two young actors have a convincing rapport, which is more than can be said for Snow White and her aristocratic childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin).Claflin's character is so thinly written - his performance so uninspired - the potential love triangle so quickly dismissed - that what should be a powerful love story is reduced to a whimper.

One can only conclude that the movie is irredeemably let down by a poor script from Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock - THE BLIND SIDE, and Hossein Amini - DRIVE. It's just too derivative, too thinly developed, too lacking in narrative drive.  And worst of all, they try to include an emotionally manipulative death scene that's utterly unearned. 

P.S. Why does no-one wear helmets in battle?  Stannis Baratheon I'm looking at you.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is on release everywhere except: Cambodia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Finland, India, Norway and Sweden, where it opens on June 8th; Belgium, France, Switzerland, Russia and Japan where it opens on June 13th; in Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand where it opens on June 21st and in Italy where it opens on July 11th.