Awards Season Feature Post

Awards Season 2015-16 Scoreboard

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Sep 3, 2013

Quick Takes: Killer Joe, Lawless and Sound of My Voice


Killer Joe (2012)

Cast:

           Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church, Marc Macaulay, Gregory C. Bauchard and Sean O'Hara

Director:

                   William Friedkin

Review:

                  William Friedkin is the director of such movies as The Exorcist and The French Connection among others, both of these has a flair of the elements that he is always very interested in. Friedkin's previous movie was again, super insane and perhaps the most wildest movie he ever made. I am talking about "Bug". Killer Joe is also an insane movie but its insanity lies in the ugliest characters and their repulsive existence than psychologically disturbed people. Killer Joe is pulpy southern gothic dark comedy with noir-ish atmosphere. Killer Joe tells the story of these ridiculous characters caught up in the webs of their own selfish, sinful absurdities. Chris Smith (Hirsch) is a drug dealer. Due to the loads of debt, he decides to kill his own mother to get her life insurance money. His father Ansel (Church), the ex-husband of Chris' mother, along with Chris decides to contact Killer Joe Cooper (McConaughey). Killer Joe is a police detective but also works as a contract killer. Chris plans to give the money to his sister Dottie (Temple) who he thinks is the beneficiary of his mother's life insurance policy. Chris is already in debt, he don't have enough money to pay Killer Joe so he tells him to take Dottie as a retainer in the meantime. The killing is carried out and well, things don't turn out the way they were initially planed. Money goes to somebody else, somebody lied to somebody, somebody dies and this "white trash" dysfunctional moral tale begins to spin out of control. Killer Joe is a flawed film let me just say this, it has its shortcomings. The ensemble felt off the wall to me, very mismatched. They never come together as a whole. Individually some good performance and some really underwhelming casting choices. Matthew McConaughey is basically the star of this movie. His character of all, never comes off as simply "trash" but he is much more twisted than what you will believe a bad cop-serial killer would be like. Hirsch rarely works well for me, Temple is always in hundreds of movies playing the same character the same way.

                  The command that McConaughey has during this movie is basically the saving grace here, his character is manipulative, evil and a psycho. There is Gina Gershon as the culprit of this family, Sharla the stepmother. I am sure those who have seen this movie and even those who haven't knows quite well about a particular scene involving... chicken? Deeply disturbing and something to throw up to. When the movie reaches that moment, up until then everything seems like a joke. As if Friedkin is playing with our sensibilities to have fun with and laugh at these cartoonish characters and hate them for who they are but it turns out that he has been serious all along. I was shocked to see the high point of this sick and deprave story to be that moment. Killer Joe has nothing pleasant in it, the characters are devoid of any morality. There is no redemption, no light and everyone is questionable and they are seedy. Trust no one, not even yourself. There is so much to hate in this movie and not one single person or thing to root for. I don't know how anyone can enjoy this? Even if they do, is that even sane? It is hard not to be amazed by exploitative movies these days that have a sense of old school feel to it. Just awful human beings caught up in awful situations. The movie is more than happy to play out elaborate stretches of characters in their own sort of fantasies and sick motivations but what it really wants is to punish them in the end. Killer Joe tests its audience, their endurance level and dares them to look away from the screen but at the same time invites them to have fun. You wont feel real drama here, you might question the characters and their intelligence. At times it feels more like a stage show featuring the most typically vile characters picked up from the south. The atmosphere here is dark, brooding and somewhat haunting. There are some pretty nasty sequences, you do know that this movie earned NC-17 rating don't you? Over the top violence, two sided characters and Freidkin's intensity here can be both lauded and laughed at. Not a great movie but an insane experiment. McConaughey is worth taking this trip to the deepest plunge of trashiest trash filled trash.

Grade: B-




Lawless (2012)

Cast:

           Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Chris McGarry, Tim Tolin, Gary Oldman, Lew Temple, Marcus Hester, Bill Camp, Alex Van and Noah Taylor

Director:

                   John Hillcoat

Review:

                 Lawless was one of the many American movies to be shown in-competition at Cannes Film Festival last year, questionably competing when their quality mostly ranged from average to really bad. It was disappointing to find that out after watching them and realizing what a shame and a waste of time and space it was. John Hillcoat's latest was written by Nick Cave based on the novel "The Wettest County in the World" by Matt Bondurant which was released in 2008. The problem with this movie is that it tries a bit too hard to make itself come across as epic. In the end it all feels like cliches rather than something extraordinary. Still not a train-wreck, there is enough to keep you going in the movie. Lawless is about these Bondurant brothers (Forrest, Howard and Jack) who are running a successful moonshine business in Franklin County, Virginia. The year is 1931 and they mostly get help from their friend, Cricket Pate. Their bar is basically used as a front for their illegal activities. There are many other bootleggers and mobsters who are running their businesses. A newly arrived Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Pearce) smells troubles for everyone. He is ruthless, evil and sadistic. Visiting the bar, he wants his share in whatever everyone makes. Forrest meets with other bootleggers convincing them to stand up to Rakes. Rakes once beats Jake to send the message to his brothers, their newly hired gorgeous waitress is raped by two men from Chicago and they almost kill Forrest while Howard was suppose to be there during the meeting. Things in those times with these people weren't that good. They weren't living lavish lifestyles, in the midst of Prohibition everyone suffered. They are in a bad business so its inevitable that they will occasionally be put up to the worse. Changing alliances, series of revenge, shootouts, liquor, the cycle continues throughout the movie.

                 Lawless has a huge cast of some very good actors. The performances here are neither too good nor they are too subtle. Gary Oldman who is in the movie for a very short time, leaves the most impression. It is just him being fully comfortable in his character that it really seems to have heft despite much development. Guy Pearce is playing an over the top, bat-shit scary looking insane person. His scenes are always compelling to watch and he makes one fine villain though a bit badly incorporated in the movie.Shia LaBeouf is surprisingly not bad, Mia Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan are nice to watch but there is not much to them. Jason Clarke and Jessica Chastain suffers from the same thing, the latter however looks insanely gorgeous and even though her character is typical, her presence in the movie is felt. And finally there is Tom Hardy with a slightly off-putting accent and trying really bad to make weird stances and expressions. I really liked the look and feel of this film however. The production design, costumes, cinematography, locations everything was stunning to look at. A well-captured, re-imagination of that era. Beautifully crafted to entirely dismiss. Lawless tries too hard to become an art-house movie by its deliberately slow pacing, lack of excitement and many dull instances where its not trying to get the best out of what it is. But what it is, is not what the filmmaker is interested in but he wants it to be more. Lawless gets nowhere when it is so confused about its own motives. The endless moments of supreme violence which includes everything from slicing and dicing to blood gore is where it only comes off as a brutal revenge tale and nothing much else. That is where it should have kept its focus rather than being caught up in its wannabe-fantasies. The characters are rarely fleshed out, most of them comes off as lifeless and in the end you don't care for them. Its a bit formulaic on the surface, a closeted crowd pleasing fair with admirable visuals. Violence with stretches of slow pacing gives an impression of a lazy film. Lawless wants to depict a grand (in the vein of HBO's Boardwalk Empire) re-imagination of the outlaws but fails.

Grade: C




Sound of My Voice (2012)

Cast:

           Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Davenia McFadden, Kandice Stroh, Richard Wharton, Christy Myers, Alvin Lam, Constance Wu, Matthew Carey, Jacob Price, David Haley and James Urbaniak

Director:

                   Zal Batmanglij

Review:

                 Brit Marling was star of the little indie sci-fi drama called "Another Earth" in which she was equally fascinating, fresh and beautiful as the movie itself. In Sound of My Voice, she stars as an enigmatic woman, Maggie, who claims that she is a time-traveler from the year 2054. This movie is the feature debut for director Zal Batmanglij, who also wrote it alongside Marling. A psychological thriller about a cult, filled with ambiguities and some layered characteristics that equally stuns as well as it leaves you with a sense of mystery and confusion which is expected for a movie with this kind of subject. So this movie is set in Los Angeles, it introduces us to this couple, Peter and Lorna. Peter is a school teacher while Lorna is a writer, they are preparing for their first undercover journalism project. Their target is a cult which is led by Maggie, their focus is on exposing them as fraud. The cult considers them first, they shower and then wear surgical gowns. After that, they are drove to a secret location in a van, blindfolded. A man known as Klaus receives them warmly with a special kind of handshake. There are other people like them who wants to meet Maggie. When she first appears, she is seen with an oxygen tank and the whole series of cleansing that the people go through before meeting her is to avoid aggravating her illness. Now Maggie knows how to talk and reach out to people, she has these particular psychological exercises that she lets the people engage in. Maggie also shares things from the future without giving any prove or denying them. She describes the future as a war-laden and poverty ridden mess. Her goal is to select few people and then prepare them for the things that are about to come. She herself lives a particular life, the things that she eats or the way she lives or advices others too is different.

                 Maggie from the very first instance is able to manipulate us. Just like the characters we start watching the movie with a skeptical mind, we believe its not true and that this all just fake. Slowly she reaches out to us in ways that proves the power of manipulation, she has a charming quality and a commanding nature. She knows how to talk and she knows how to slowly and steadily pick up pieces from us to eventually break us down in a big way. Maggie is at the center of this story, we watch her from a distance. Nothing she says seems true but everything she says seems likely to have happened because she is saying so. Brit Marling once again surprised me with her subtle and refreshing performance. Her presence, the mannerism, the closeups the intriguing identity of her ambiguous character is a mystery. The kind of mystery and suspense that drives this movie in a way that there doesn't seem to be any need left to feature chases, shootouts or violence. The effect is on our psych, the hold that this movie forms on us is unshakable. It creeps slowly, forms a mystery, seems closer to the 'truth' and then immediately adds another cover of ambiguity. That cycle continues and it proves worth it. There are no easy answers to such things in reality as well. You cannot have clear-cut answers. Is that cult seedy? Is it true? Is that woman actually from the future? On paper and mostly in its depiction of that aspect as well as continuously pushing us forward to something more mysterious is admirable and it succeeds in it. However overall this movie doesn't hold up well, not memorable enough or is able to pull everything off with every bit of confidence which it strives for. As i said, i am glad that the movie ended on a highly ambiguous note. You never have the answers, all you are left with is endless questions, is its and what ifs. Sound of my Voice is smart, unsettling and appreciable low key movie. Its power lies in its depiction of manipulation, identity, ambiguity and the way it explores all those things.

Grade: B-