Killer Joe

Oh, no! The dreaded cut to black strikes again!

Matthew McConaughey's strong 2012 continues with his dark, comic turn as the title character. Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas police detective who occasionally is hired to murder people on the side. How he is not found out yet by his police brotherhood is a mystery to myself and the rest of the audience. But, I digress.

When white-trash hillbilly Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is $10,000 in debt to local loan shark Digger Soames, (Marc Macaulay) Chris and his even more white-trash father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) decide to hire Killer Joe to murder Ansel's ex-wife and Chris' mother Adele. Chris has been informed that Adele's life insurance policy is worth $50,000. After Killer Joe's fee is taken, Chris and Ansel decide they can use the rest of the money.

Problems arise when Killer Joe goes over his details to Chris and Ansel. Killer Joe states that his fee is to be paid up front. Realizing that Chris and Ansel do not have that amount of money, Killer Joe decides to provide them with a different offer: Chris' sister Dottie (Juno Temple) will be held as a "retainer" until the life insurance is paid out and Killer Joe is paid for his services.

As typical with this type of story, the plan for Chris does not go off as expected. Chris begins to doubt whether killing Adele is a good plan while Killer Joe and Dottie begin a relationship, much to the chagrin of Chris. Soon, the walls for Chris begin to close in and danger lurks for Dottie along with Ansel and his current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).

This is a hard movie to like, but also a hard one not to ignore. Director William Friedkin re-teams with writer Tracy Letts to tell a darkly comic and very violent tale that satirizes the white-trash culture. As with their previous pairing, Bug, this film gives the feeling of a play. Not as restricted as Bug, this film opens the landscape and spends a good amount of time in the daylight. Being in the daylight, though, makes this film no less dark.

Some of the acting in this film, especially from Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church came off very wooden to me. I was especially disappointed with Thomas Haden Church's performance as Ansel. Ansel is played for laughs by being your typical, dumb hillbilly. Most of Thomas Haden Church's scenes come off as wooden and stiff. Emile Hirsch comes off worse, as he is basically the main character and we have to sit through his stiff acting. Neither one is absolutely terrible, but they are overshadowed by two really well-done performances.

Gina Gershon's Sharla is a very unlikable character. She is cheating on Ansel and really seems to have no care for anyone in the film. Gina Gershon plays this character as nasty as she is written, yet when the ending comes, her performance really shines. Which brings us to Matthew McConaughey. This might be Matthew McConaughey's finest performance yet. Killer Joe is a very cool customer, and throughout the whole film has the entire Smith family in the palm of his hand. Yet, you are able to see cracks in his foundation when his frustrations boil over.

The writing of the film is solid, yet maybe makes too much fun of the white-trash culture. The Smith family appears like they literally walked off the Jerry Springer show. This is shown by guzzling nothing but Budweiser, watching monster trucks on television and living in a trailer with a large dog outside. This is obviously taking all the cliches of white-trash and throwing them into one movie.

One final thing, the last act of this film is some of the finest work of 2012. Once all the issues are brought up and its time to resolve the plot, we are restricted to one location for the remainder of the film. We watch as Killer Joe and his frustrations with the Smith family finally reach a boiling point. All the remaining characters meet in one location and the entire plot attempts to resolve. Unfortunately, we cut to black! Ah, I know it's a stylistic choice, but the last 30 seconds of the film didn't make sense to me and then the film ended. Not the worst ending ever, just leaves more to be desired.

A solid film with two great performances by Matthew McConaughey and Gina Gershon anchor this dark and violent film.


Django Unchained

As the holidays come to a close, I bring you the most heart-warming film of the holiday season.

Obviously, there is plenty of sarcasm to that statement, but also, this is a story about a man looking to reunite with his true love. The man I speak of is Django, (Jamie Foxx) a slave who has been separated from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

German dentist-turned bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) finds Django deep in Texas and recruits him to help hunt down the Brittle Brothers. As Django has seen the Brittle Brothers and Dr. Schultz hasn't, Django proves to be useful. In return for Django's help, Dr. Schultz offers to train Django to be a bounty hunter, make him a free man and ultimately, help Django reunite with his wife.

After dispatching of the Brittle Brothers, Dr. Schultz makes good on his word. Dr. Schultz and Django are able to locate the whereabouts of Broomhilda. It is revealed that Broomhilda is owned by Calvin Candie, (Leonardo DiCaprio) a sadistic plantation owner who specializes in mandingo fighting at his plantation: Candie Land. Dr. Schultz and Django pose as men looking to buy a mandingo fighter from Calvin and hope to have Broomhilda thrown into the deal as well. The plan seems to sit well with everyone except for Calvin's house slave, Stephen, (Samuel L. Jackson) who does not trust Dr. Schultz or Django and might be one step ahead of our titular heroes.

Now, a lot of controversy has surrounded this movie regarding the use of the word "nigger". I wholeheartedly hate racism, and truly do not believe someone should be oppressed just due to their skin color. As Quentin Tarantino has set this movie in 1858/9, there are obvious reasons to believe that black men and woman would be referred to by this word. The word itself is not thrown out gratuitously and not there as shock value for the audience. The characters who utter this word use it as their normal speech. This is obviously not America's proudest moment in history, but it still is a chapter in the American history books.

Getting passed the elephant in the room, this is one of Quentin Tarantino's best movies. The film is filled with humor that (most of the time) hits the area it was aiming for. When not laughing, the violence in this film might turn some people away. Myself, I was actually glad to see blood squibs used instead of gaudy CGI blood (I'm looking at you The Departed and Expendables franchise). Granted some might think that the blood flow in this film may be excessive, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing actual blood fly. Maybe it was the fact it seemed like Paul Verhooven circa 1990 had filmed the more violent scenes? I don't know, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Two performances really stand out in this film. First, Christoph Waltz's Dr. King Schultz is a nice guy and a man of his word. In essence, Dr. Schultz is the nice guy version of Colonel Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. He's charming when he needs to be and cold-blooded when the situation calls for it. Even more impressive, though, is Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen. What initially starts out as spoof of this type of role, turns much more complex. Stephen really is smarter than Calvin Candie and knows it. He has worked so long at Candie Land, that he is faithful to Calvin and would do anything to protect Calvin's interests and the interests of Candie Land.

The major issue I had with this film, and the only reason it is not my favorite film of the year comes from the editing, mostly regarding the ending. Django Unchained is a leisurely-paced film and moves from one scene to the next when it feels like it. The results of this leaves a lot of fat on the film. Most of the unnecessary scenes are entertaining and don't drag the film down much, but the scene involving Jonah Hill stood out as the first scene that should have been cut. This is an overly-long scene that doesn't add anything to the film (especially how it is placed into the middle of an action scene) and is there only for humorous reasons.

Besides that scene, the last 15-20 minutes of this movie finds Quentin Tarantino's script wandering aimlessly in search for an ending. Django is placed into an almost impossible situation to escape from. Once that is resolved, we are treated to Django being put into a situation that hasn't been mentioned before with a bunch of characters we haven't met (including an awful cameo by QT himself). Django then needs to get out of this situation and wrap up the remaining story threads. I am not sure how Quentin could have ended the movie, but I really wish he chose a different way then what he went with.

Overall, this is one of the year's best and shouldn't be missed just because of the controversy. See the movie and judge for yourself.



Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise re-teams with Christopher McQuarrie to bring the literary character Jack Reacher to the big screen.

I have never read any book involving the character of Jack Reacher, including 'One Shot', which this film used as the basis. So, not being able to compare and contrast the book versus the film, I will solely be reviewing the film on its own merits.

After a sniper guns down five people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the sniper is easily tracked down. Using crime scene evidence, this appears to be an open and shut case. During his interrogation, the sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora) writes down "Get Jack Reacher".

We learn that Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost. There is little information on him, and most of it comes in the form of his military history. Jack Reacher shows up and almost immediately teams up with Barr's defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike). Helen is just trying to ensure that Barr gets a fair trial while her father, District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) feels that this case is a slam dunk.

As such with a film like this, the case isn't a slam dunk and Jack Reacher begins to find evidence that may free Barr. Jack uses his intelligence and wit to overcome obstacles that are continually thrown his way in an effort to avert him from saving Barr. In typical Tom Cruise fashion, action, fists and one-liners are thrown out in a fury with most landing for good shots.

Writer and director Christopher McQuarrie makes an old-school feeling solid action/mystery film. McQuarrie's script is a little too generous with wrapping things up in a neat little package, though. As an action film, though, you could do much, MUCH worse. There are no humongous set pieces or large amounts of gaudy CGI continuously hitting you over the head. This is a solid, stripped-down, yet somewhat forgettable action film. Christopher McQuarrie provides a few action set pieces that do not feel over the top (with the exception of a fist fight in the rain) and doesn't try to 'wow' you with whatever new CGI creation that was devised this week. Instead, the action is solid, just like the performances.

Jack Reacher does not really stand out amongst other characters that Tom Cruise has played before. He is secretive, but a solid good guy who wants things to be done right... even if he is the only one who can do it that way. Jack Reacher follows a solid code of conduct, and with the exception of a car chase, adheres to what he believes in. Granted, as he never seems to fear what he is getting in to, there really is no threat that anything bad is going to happen to him.

Jack Reacher is nothing grandiose, but also nothing gratuitous either. Just a good old fashioned action/thriller. And sometimes that is all you need.




...Another film by Simon West.

3 films in 2 years shows that Simon West is either a work horse or has multiple bills to pay. Regarding this Nicolas Cage gem, my money is on, like Nicolas Cage I'm sure, the latter.

Years after a bank heist goes awry, thief extraordinaire Will Montgomery (Nicolas Cage) is released from prison. He is now reformed and determined to do the right thing. And that first "right thing" is to make amends with his daughter, Alison (Sami Gayle). As such with a film like this, just as their reconciliation begins, his daughter wants nothing to do with him and bolts. Unbeknownst to Will, his old partner Vincent, (Josh Lucas) has other plans and kidnaps Alison.

Vincent's masterful plan involves holding Alison hostage in the trunk of a taxi cab, blackmailing Will and retrieving ten million dollars. Will has to race against time to retrieve the ten million dollars and to find Vincent before Alison is killed.

Good lord. This movie sucks. There is not really much to write about here. Basically, this plot has been done, and done much better by a lot of films. Even Gone in 60 Seconds, (the 2000 trash heap) which this film basically rips off, is a better film.

Nicolas Cage, like usual, is on auto-pilot as is Simon West. No one brings anything worthy to the film and makes it much more of a chore than it has to be. The script by David Guggenheim never takes any chances and follows the tired formula of a reformed criminal who must resort to "one last score" in order to save someone he loves. If that description of the film sounds familiar, then you already know how this story is going to go.

Unlike Nicolas Cage, Simon West and David Guggenheimm, Josh Lucas provides an interesting character with Vincent. Unfortunately, this isn't a good type of interesting and might actually be worse than what Cage, West and Guggenheim offer. Once the prologue for the film is done with and we are now eight years later, Vincent has changed since we saw him last. His changes are not for the better and actually made me laugh out loud more than once. It must be seen, as my limited vocabulary will not do it justice. Though, you might be better off just not experiencing this film. Either way, Josh Lucas' Vincent is one of the least threatening villains in the history of film. Fact.

Anyway, i just saw this film and I'm struggling to remember what happened. Just avoid this.



News: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

According to The Hollywood Reporter, 24 allum Dennis Haysbert has been cast in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For as the replacement for Michael Clarke Duncan's Manute. As Manute is integral to the storylines that Sin City offers, the role would obviously have to be recast due to the unfortunate passing of Michael Clarke Duncan in September. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will again be directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller and is scheduled to be released October 4, 2013. The link below has all the details you need.


Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly is anything but soft and subtle.

Directed by Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly is based on the book Cogan's Trade (which I haven't read). Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer brought in by Driver (Richard Jenkins). Driver explains that an illegal card game run by Markie (Ray Liotta) has been robbed by two men.

The two men are revealed to be Frankie and Russell, (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who are hired by local business owner Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola). Johnny explains that Markie had earlier staged a robbery at his own card game and made off with the money himself. Later, while drunk, Markie bragged to his mob associates that he staged the robbery. Johnny's plan is to rob Markie's card game again, as Markie had already bragged about robbing the card game before, the mob will assume it is Markie again and kill him. Once Markie has been taken care of, Johnny, Frankie and Russell will be in the clear with the money from the card game.

As such, with this type of plot, things don't go exactly as planned. Heroin-addicted Russell, begins to brag about the robbery and this information makes its way back to Jackie. Jackie realizes that Markie is innocent and quickly deduces who is responsible for the robbery. As Jackie knows Johnny, he brings in New York hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to assist with the hits required for this job. Mickey is going through a messy divorce and a huge alcohol problem, which complicates matters with Jackie.

If anyone saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik, then you should know what to expect from this film. Andrew Dominik, in some ways, resembles Terence Malick. Scenes in Killing Them Softly seem to serve no purpose and ramble on involving dialogue or shots that do not pertain to the film at all. At times, this film is very frustrating with hip "naturalistic"-sounding dialogue that doesn't move the film at all. Other times, this is a solid dark comedy/crime drama that works so well.

Speaking of things that don't work well, James Gandolfini's Mickey serves no purpose in the film at all. He is brought in by Jackie to do a hit, but instead drinks the whole time and spouts off on topics about his divorce, potential criminal charges and sex. Nothing involving the Mickey character works, and the character should have been edited from the film. Along with Mickey, the character of Russell was annoying to sit with during any of his screen time. As he is a heroin addict, all time spent with him is an annoying, rambling and incoherent mess. I understand that is probably what spending time with someone like that is, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. Russell's scene where he informs Frankie that he spoke about the robbery came off as so annoying and done in an over-the-top artistic way by Andrew Dominik that I couldn't wait for that scene to be over.

Brad Pitt, on the other hand, delivers a really good performance as a man who has a job to do and that's it. He isn't here to make small talk and take in the scenery. He has been hired to do a job and he will do it. Rounding out the cast are an entertaining performance by Richard Jenkins who acts as a spokesman for the mafia and Liotta's Markie who suffers through one beating after another. Oh, and Sam Shepard shows up as well. His role is about as brief as the line I just wrote to describe it. I assume he had a bigger role in the reported two and a half hour first cut version of this film.

And what would a review about this film be without touching on the over the top mentioning of the economy? I know what Andrew Dominik was going for, and it ties in well to the film, but when every character is either listening to the news or watching the news or talking about the news, it gets tiresome. This wasn't being hit over the head, this was being hobbled by mentioning how bad the economy is. Sprinkle the film with it... not be a glutton and blanket the film with it.

As a crime drama, this is a hard-hitting and solid film. If you know it is directed by Andrew Dominik beforehand, that will help as this film tends to take the long, winding road to get to its point instead of following the straight road. Rooted by good performances, and some beautiful cinematography and a biting cynicism to it, this is a solid recommendation.