Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Killer Joe

I’ve always been a fan of cinema that pushes the envelope. I sought out films like Salo or 120 Days of Sodom and proudly own a copy of A Serbian Film. These films, both extremely graphic and disturbing in nature, also exist as art. No one wants to watch Monica Bellucci get raped for 8 minutes in Irreversible, but Gaspar Noé and other European directors want to create film that challenges you and forces you to really think about what is happening on-screen.

In America, films are not given the same opportunities to explore the darkness each of us holds within us. American film history is rife with examples of the public, the government, and the industry itself censoring and limiting the expression of these artists. So when a movie stirs up controversy about its explicitness, I naturally want to see it. I want to see the films banned in the United States and other countries. I’m not looking for titillation or porn, I’m looking for cutting edge stuff. Think of me as James Woods in Videodrome without all the Cronenbergian elements.

Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.

Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.

I’ve seen many of the NC-17 rated films and have seen the most memorable X-rated films multiple times (A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Cowboy). So I leap at the opportunity to see one of these films on the big screen. I never made to see Shame, when director Steve McQueen boldly released it with an NC-17 rating, but I’ve seen it multiple times since its arrived on video. I saw Bertolucci’s The Dreamers for the simple fact it was NC-17, and if it weren’t for the creepy guy snickering behind me, I would have enjoyed the film a lot more.

When I visited Chicago last September, I made a point to see films my local theater had yet, and likely never, would show. The first film I saw was Compliance, a disturbing thriller based on real crimes. A man would call into fast food restaurants and convince whoever answered that he was a cop and force the staff to degrade and sexually abuse and humiliate a younger girl on staff. Like many disturbing films, it fell on the soft side too often and relied more on gimmick than story.

MV5BMjI0MDQyMTU1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODc5Njg3Nw@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_The second film I watched was the unabashedly NC-17 rated Killer Joe. I went mostly out of curiosity (and the review it for my girlfriend who was desperate to see it). The next 100 or so minutes were a blast. Here was a down and dirty Texas murder story based on the play of the same name. Sure, there was nudity and graphic violence, but the story kept your attention and never took a backseat to spectacle.

Killer Joe finds loser Chris (Emile Hirsch) owning $6000 to some people none too pleased that he can’t pay it back. With the help of his father Ansel (the always enjoyable Thomas Haden Church), Chris hires a cop that kills people on the side. In walks Killer Joe Cooper, played ferociously by Matthew McConaughey. A Dallas cop that is as ruthless as he is calm. Chris wants to collect on his mother’s life insurance policy and wants Joe to do the job. Problem is since Chris can’t afford to pay him upfront, Joe decides Chris’s younger sister would be an excellent retainer. From there, the story shows us just what Joe’s intentions are as we pull back the curtain on this extremely dysfunctional family.

1292358458-fried-chickenEven at it’s most graphic, the film has a voice worth hearing. The sprinkling of dark humor allows for the film to really roll around in the filth the story describes. The climactic scene involving some fried chicken is not something easily forgotten. Director William Friedkin is no stranger to controversy. Having directed The Exorcist back in 1973, he knows how to keep the story compelling. And compelling it is. I’m so happy that the Blu-ray kept the film intact, unlike the DVD that has a more sanitized version.

I’ll watch this movie over and over. It’s one of my favorite films of this year. Mostly because I’ve never seen McConaughey play a character so interesting. The film is not for kids, and possible not even for some adults, but it’s a movie that really stands out from the films I’ve seen this year. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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The Trailer Tells its Own Story

Something needs to be done about trailers/movie previews. I don’t think I can handle another potential movie going experienced being ruined by its trailers. Instead of teasing and building interest in a film, many have resulted to becoming the Cliff Notes for a 2 ½ hour film. Why waste money on a bad film if the best part of the film is the truncated two to three-minute form?

Before we attack those involved in making the trailers, let’s first clear some things up. Trailers are assembled long before the movie finishes filming. Many times, the trailer’s editing staff must assemble bits and pieces into a cohesive advertisement to get people in the cineplex. Major portions of the film have not been captured or had proper post-production effects rendered. Also, some of the portions that the assembly team use end up being scenes on the cutting room floor. So a great line or take from a comedy trailer made up not making it the completed film. This might be a blessing or a curse.

The Glass Case of Emotion

The Glass Case of Emotion

In the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy trailer, we got Ron screaming, “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” When the film hit theaters that summer, the line was noticeably absent. It has since been added to DVDs and Blu-ray, but that is just one example.

Some comedies will put an alternate take of dialogue, which can feel funny when you’ve seen a different version in the trailer multiple times.  Look at gag reels for films like Tropic Thunder; sometimes a line gets three or four different deliveries. Granted, some worked more than others, but the process of filming a scene is easy to see.

This all aside, I’ve begun only watching the first half of many trailers outside of the theater. Two films last year played their cards way too soon, giving away a major Act II or Act III twist in the first half of a trailer. The Double and Dream House drove me so mad that I actively avoided them both. The Double is a cat-and-mouse espionage flick starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace.  The trailer made me very interested in seeing film, detailing a CIA agent and a FBI agent trying to capture an assassin. Problem was, the trailer gave away who the assassin was and showed most of what appeared to be Act III action. I felt so cheated that someone dumbed down a film to the point I would have no surprises watching it. It was liking reading the most important chapter of a book first instead of starting at the beginning.

Dream House played out similarly. Starring the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, we followed a man investigating the supernatural history of his home. Instead of playing up the psychological thriller angle it seemed to aim for, the trailer put everything on the table. Any surprise or shock was gone when we found out what was really going on with Craig’s character. What looked like a decent horror show became a trailer that gave away everything except the ending. It disgusted and insulted me.

A great trailer can succeed and not blow a film’s load in two minutes. Look at Christopher Nolan’s Inception trailers. The film set things up, explained the premise in vague strokes, but sucked you in. It helped that the film was too complex and original to spoil. A noticeable exception to this atrocious method of selling audiences on films is last year’s Warrior. By looking at the trailer, it gives away the entire plot of the film. And yet, what the trailer doesn’t show (i.e. the finale) made the film actually endure and overcome its unfortunate trailer.

Great films and bad films alike deserve being discovered in their full form. I know the difficulty of summarizing something so succinctly, but its been done correctly for decades, so the excuses are null and void. If you’re making a Michael Bay and you have footage of an epic battle scene, include it. But make sure the film is not synopsized completely. These trailers need to keep in mind that the focus of a trailer is ideally limited to Act I with a spackling of later scenes without context. You can put “I drink your milkshake,” anywhere in a trailer for There Will Be Blood but don’t tell the entire story. That’s for the filmmakers to do. Leave the twist for paying patrons. Don’t give it away from free. It insults the intelligence of the moviegoers and can actually drive business away.

**Final note: Romantic comedies don’t apply. Even the less formulaic ones all get the same type of trailer. People see those for the concept, not the plot. They meet, they have a fight, they get back together. That isn’t a spoiler, that’s what seems to happen every time!