Killer Joe (2012)

killer joe

Some may be offended by it, but I think Killer Joe is the best film of 2012.

Killer Joe’s premise is simple but invigoratingly delivered. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsh) has got himself in trouble with the underworld, if he doesn’t produce some cash, he’s a dead man. He reasons with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) that everyone would be happier if his obnoxious mother Adele was killed, particularly as she has a $50,000 life insurance policy. Considering Adele is his wretched ex-wife, he agrees, as does his girlfriend Sharla (Gina Gershon) and teenage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). Although Chris doesn’t have the money up front, Killer Joe, a Dallas police officer who moonlights as a contract killer, accepts the job on the condition that Dottie serves as sexual collateral.

‘Killer Joe’ is a fantastic thriller with a warped tension that you don’t encounter that often. This film confirms that Matthew McConaughey is on a rapid upward trajectory, he gives an intense performance that’s utterly steeped in menace. Though ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper remains largely restrained and ambiguous throughout the film, each syllable of his southern drawl is loaded with a palpable danger. His performance is captivating; it creates a pervasive, looming sense of dread and depravity that suggests something very bad is going to happen at any moment.

The praise doesn’t stop with McConaughey, the whole cast delivers to the best of their ability, it really is an actors’ film. If I hadn’t researched her, I would have assumed on the credibility of her southern accent that the British Juno Temple was a Texas native.  She shows good dramatic range as Dottie, the slightly strange, child-like girl at the centre of the film.

William Friedkin has outdone himself with his second collaboration with writer Tracy Letts; he directs the taut, punchy material perfectly. What’s most refreshing is that 77-year-old Friedkin was bold enough to release it uncut with the dreaded NC-17 certificate; he wasn’t going to allow himself to sell out.

Seeing as the film’s source material is a stage play, it isn’t a film of many sets; it seldom leaves the confines of the Smith family’s trashy trailer. Much like their first collaboration ‘Bug’, ‘Killer Joe’ impressively manages to deliver biting tension and a maelstrom of chaos in a cramped, domestic setting.

I can honestly compliment every area of this film. Tyler Bates’ score is brilliantly suspenseful, especially when it introduces Killer Joe, it further adds to his aura of danger. The film is also beautifully shot – it’s stunning in high definition.

Despite the menace and darkness of it all, the film is laced with deadpan humour, especially in the film’s final quarter, the demented absurdity of which leaving you wondering what the hell just happened!

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Dark Knight Rises

Disappointingly dull blockbuster fare.

Upon reflection, I realised that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ isn’t much more than mediocre. It’s little more than a multiplex pandering, noisy summer blockbuster that hides behind a veil of overly dark and ‘serious’ themes in a really rather pretentious manner. Much like its predecessor, the film is convoluted; its simple plot is dragged over 165 minutes. I actually didn’t find the length particularly bothering, I don’t think I started to fidget too much in my seat, but I was certainly aware that it was too long.

Predictably, the film is overrated, much like fellow blockbusters ‘Avatar’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’. All of them adopt the generic blockbuster formula, one of the signature elements of this formula being the humdrum orchestral score, which either sounds like an approaching ocean liner or is so flat and featureless that you’ll leave the cinema forgetting it had one. Christopher Nolan loves his epic narratives to be full of twists and turns, and he will create them no matter how implausible they are.

‘Rises’ isn’t at the top of the implausibility scale, I think that area is reserved for ‘Inception’ or ‘The Prestige’, but so many parts of this film are tiringly unlikely and badly executed. I’m not a fan of literal film criticism, however Bruce Wayne transforms from a decrepit, gout ridden Howard Hughes figure to crime-fighting Batman within an hour, as if the rather damning diagnosis given at the beginning of the film was false. I think they were trying to cram in too many elements of its source material into the bloated plot in a ‘Spider Man 3’ fashion. Without spoiling anything, the ending is also a weak point; its sheer theatrical unlikelihood saps any power or catharsis it intended to be dripping in. The careless implausibility is to be found throughout the film, and for me, it detracted significantly from my engagement with the film.

The film is striking, yes, but not as striking as you’d expect. The word ‘epic’ is being thrown around constantly about this film, but it’s rather ordinary; it’s decent, but it doesn’t stand out like ‘Avatar’. I must admit I found the opening of ‘2012’ more exhilarating.

Contrary to a rather sizeable opinion, I quite liked Bane. I liked his brutal strength and even his voice, which was only slightly irritating after the lengthy monologue delivered upon the car to the inmates. Christian Bale’s performance was again quite unremarkable, like everything with the film – it was okay, nothing special. I like Bale a lot, it’s not entirely his fault, it’s the fault of the character’s. Bruce Wayne and Batman aren’t the deepest, most multi-faceted of characters; Bale is either the restrained, non-entity of Wayne or the growling Batman. The best performance is Michael Caine’s, who has one particular scene that’s given with a marked sincerity that is a real showcase of Caine’s talents.

Ultimately, I left the cinema feeling quite hollow. It wasn’t all bad, but it was rather uninteresting, slightly stupid blockbuster fare.

70%

Django Unchained (2012)

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Tarantino delivers another provocative and hugely entertaining film.

I love the sense of occasion a Tarantino film has, he’s in the lucky position of being one of the most popular and controversial directors of the past twenty years. Some may find him self-indulgent, but the merits of his energetic, funny and flamboyant films are undeniable; it’s fantastic that he is able to make such edgy blockbusters.

‘Django’, which is effectively a ‘buddy film’, charts the relationship between German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave Schultz rescues. Together they endeavour to save Django’s wife from the notorious ‘Candie Land’, a vast plantation owned by the ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The film has a great ensemble cast. Jamie Foxx makes the most of his character, who for the most part is a ‘man-with-no-name’ figure. He accomplishes Tarantino’s goal of ‘giving Black American males a Western hero’. DiCaprio successfully depicts Candie as a pompous pseudo-intellectual and at times a nasty piece of work, however the extent to which he brushes off barbed comments from Django surprised me, there were moments where I wondered if  he was menacing or authoritative enough.  Based on the great ‘Killer Joe’ (2012), I wondered how Matthew McConaughey would have performed the role, he could have steeped it in menace, but I doubt he could have achieved the risible ignorance of DiCaprio.

Christoph Waltz again showcases his talent here, but his character in ‘Inglorious Basterds’ gave him more scope to perform his ‘charming but deadly’ persona. Samuel L. Jackson completely transforms into the character of Stephen, who is Candie’s geriatric butler and the ultimate uncle tom. Jackson’s performance is my favourite, he’s both a tragic and very nasty figure. Tarantino himself appears in the later stages of the film with an Australian accent that ranges from being incoherent to not very Australian at all – thankfully it’s strictly a cameo.

There are laughs all the way through ‘Django’, a notable example being when slave owner ‘Big Daddy'(Don Johnson) attempts to explain to a slave how she should treat the newly liberated and somewhat respected Django – it completely ridicules the nonsensical, pernicious madness of racism.

I also found myself disregarding any form of moral compass and laughing heartily at the more cartoonish displays of violence. There is one particular scene that is a veritable bloodbath, seldom in the annals of celluloid has there been a moment more deserving of the term!

Some have criticised the film’s length, however I had little trouble with its 165 minute running time. There were indeed sections of the film, chiefly before and during the ‘Candie Land’ period, which could have been trimmed perhaps, however I was perfectly content.

The majority won’t be disappointed, the film has all the earmarks of a Tarantino film – he is the ultimate fan boy auteur. I can’t wait to see it again.

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