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Killer Joe

24 Feb

Director: William Friedkin (2011)

killerjoeMomma, we are not in Kansas anymore. We are in deepest, darkest Southern territory, home to the hicks and miscreants of middle-America, fuelled by gun crime, sweat and fried chicken.

Killer Joe is not for the faint hearted. And do not allow yourself to be fooled by the trailer and synopsis pitching it as a ‘black comedy’. A lesson I certainly learned the hard way… Comedy there may be, but this is as black as it comes as a father and son agree to put their mentally disturbed sister on retainer with a quietly deranged, dirty detective they hire to kill their mother so they can cash in on the life insurance to pay off some drug overlords after a deal goes bad. As I say, this is not your typical gritty thriller, this is one that as the credits roll could be as hard to clean away as the congealed fat from a deep fat fryer.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is in trouble with the kind of people who you don’t want to get in trouble with – the kind with a predilection for motorbikes and pipes. And he owes a lot of money, fast. At his wits end – what few wits he has – Chris hears of a cop who moonlights as a contract killer. His cunning plan, hire the aptly named Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his layabout mother who happens to have a healthy life insurance policy so he can pay off the bad guys and leave town. The only problem is Killer Joe needs his $25,000 fee in advance. Luckily, Killer Joe has other kinds of payment on his mind – namely the possession of Chris’ younger sister, oddball Dottie (Juno Temple) until the insurance claim clears.

As the bizarre relationship between Joe and Dottie develops, Chris begins to regret his quick acceptance of the deal. But once you’re in, you’re in, leaving Chris and his father to reap the consequences of their dark plan. Though, it’s mainly Chris who feels the consequences. And by Chris, I mean mainly Chris’ face and internal organs.

McConaughey owns the sleaze as Joe, lurking in the dark trailer park shadows in his Stetson, powerful and foreboding, while Hirsch’s twitchy and battered Chris is the physical embodiment of bad decisions.
Unapologetically violent, abrasive and sadistic, Killer Joe is a bloody adventure into the darkest end of the comedy spectrum, earning its categorisation as a ‘Southern Gothic’.

You will never want to eat fried chicken again.


Silver Linings Playbook

30 Jan

Director: David O Russell (2012)

Silver_Linings_Playbook_PosterA touching romantic comedy, about bipolar and mental illness? On paper, this does not sound too feasible. But in Silver Linings Playbook, David O Russell has flouted all my reservations and created a beautiful, inspiring and gently humorous film about the personal and familial struggles of mental illness in all its guises.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a psychiatric hospital, part of a court order after he beat his wife’s lover when he caught the two in the shower together. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Pat moves back in with his parents, played by Robert Di Niro and Jackie Weaver, determined to get his life back together and win back his wife. At dinner with an old friend, Pat is introduced to recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who deals with her own depressive issues with a sex addiction rather than rage. In a deal that would normally reside in a plot for twee rom-coms primed and ready for the multiplexes, Tiffany promises to help Pat win back his wife if he enters a dance competition as her partner. But in Russell’s safe hands, the simple storyline becomes a catalyst to develop the building relationship between the two protagonists, alone in a world that doesn’t understand the way the feel – and is scared by what they think they know.

Winning herself an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Jennifer Lawrence brings her usual feist matched with a realism and universal appeal to the beautiful and damaged Tiffany. Bradley Cooper balances his character’s need for control and order through exercise with his typically masculine bravado with a softer, more fragile persona. In this way, both Lawrence and Cooper capture the multiplicitous nature of mental illness – what we see on the outside is very rarely what is happening on the inside, complementing one another as they learn to deal with their conditions.

Silver Linings Playbook is driven by its strong cast who are expertly able to deliver the nuances and quirks of mental illness in a world that would rather ignore its existence. Brave and unapologetic for its portrayal of mental health in today’s society, Silver Linings Playbook is an important and uplifting revelation about those times when life doesn’t go to plan, and the people we meet who help us find the silver linings we need to get us through.


12 Nov

Director: Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano (2011)

untouchableIs there much comedy in the story of a man paralysed by a tragic paragliding accident? Yes. So much comedy. In one of the most hilariously touching films I’ve seen in years, Untouchable is one of those rare treats that surprises, moves and affects in every scene.
Opening with a high speed car chase through the streets of Paris, Driss (Omar Sy) is pulled over by the police. Turning to his companion Philippe (François Cluzet) beside him, he claims to be able to get them an escort. He then proceeds to use his friends paraplegia to get him out of a speeding fine, a ruse helped along as Philippe feigns a seizure to hurry the process along.

The audience is stunned into silence. For the briefest of moments. As the music kicks in the twosome veer off into the night and so begins a wonderful two-hour journey into the lives of two polar opposites living within and beyond their own diversities in a beautiful friendship.
Told through flashback, Untouchable follows Philippe, a rich quadriplegic, in high stunning Parisian mansion on his search for a live-in carer. Choosing the most disinterested, cocky and obnoxious candidate, only there to get a signature on his jobseekers benefit form, we immediately see a similar mischievous quality in Philippe and soon begin to see why these two men bond so quickly.

Touching on the obvious physical difficulties of caring for someone in such a way, from bathing and dressing to feeding and, of course, changing, this is a world away from his previous life for Driss. Philippe takes great pleasure in seeing Driss challenged but similarly enjoys watching his determination not to be deemed a failure – as usual. In a typical formula, both men have something to gain and to give – for Driss, he needs to learn to work and commit to something, for Philippe, he needs to learn to live for each moment. So far, so standard, but where Untouchable excels and expands this dichotomous relationship is in its unabashed treatment of the humour that inevitably arises from such intimate friendships.

A shameless flirt and talented artist, Driss is unleashed in the mansion, finally given the space he needs to create and a bathtub, a luxury he never had while sharing a small one-room flat with his extended family. Wickedly humorous but quietly resigned to his fate trapped in a wheelchair, Philippe masks his loneliness, keeping a secret epistolary romance with the help of his assistant, Magalie. When Driss finds out, there are some obvious skill shares this lothario can help out with… But rather than blazing in with the clichéd and forced montages of liberation, Untouchable focuses on the way the two men relax with one another as their working relationship develops, allowing their ways to seep into their own behaviours – as Driss displays his paintings and Philippe meets his lady penpal.

Music features heavily throughout the film, extending beyond merely being a soundtrack; Philippe’s love of classical music teaches Driss about the beauty of order and skill while Driss’ obsession with Boogie Wonderland and Earth Wind and Fire brings energy and movement into Philippe’s life, allowing him to live vicariously through Driss’ dancing – one of the best scenes in the film. Aside from the shaving scene but I will leave that for you to enjoy…

Completely life affirming in every way.