Killer Joe

August 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple
Directed by: William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”)
Written by: Tracy Letts (“Bug”)

If a film like 2011’s sexually explicit British drama “Shame” taught us anything, it’s that being slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating these days doesn’t always ensure a death sentence. Sure, its box-office numbers will be affected by those close-minded theater chains refusing to screen movies considered too provocative because of the MPAA label, but as the critically-acclaimed “Shame” proved, sometimes the content of a film is so essential to the story, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it might be for some viewers. “I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter,” Fox Searchlight Pictures’ President Steve Gilula said last year about the film. “We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner.”

The same can be said for the dark comedy thriller “Killer Joe,” but with a more tongue-in-cheek approach. Supporting the “artistic integrity” of Oscar-winning filmmaker William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Letts, the studio decided to keep the film intact and not edit it down to a more desired R rating. It was the right choice, especially since its badge of honor was earned for one specific incident in the third act of the film featuring a fried chicken drumstick. Touch that scene in any way and “Killer Joe” is a different movie.

Never mind the full frontal nudity, language, or hardcore violence. Besides the KFC scene, there’s nothing that hasn’t been seen or heard before in other NC-17 or hard R-rated movies with one other exception. As the title character, a contract killer in Texas hired to murder a mother so her twisted family can collect on the insurance policy, Matthew McConaughey is dangerously good. As the head of this diamondback-rattlesnake-of-a-film, he strikes within a sadistic realm very few actors would dare to tread. The venom behind “Killer Joe” is extremely palpable, which makes it all the more disturbing to watch.

Thomas Haden Church – Killer Joe

August 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Academy Award-nominated actor Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) doesn’t think violence in films should be held responsible for violent things that happen in real life.

“That’s like saying it’s unhealthy for children to fantasize about unicorns because there’s no such thing as unicorns,” Church, 52, told me last week during an interview to promote his new film “Killer Joe.” “Movies can’t be blamed for children having unrealistic dreams and ambitions.”

Church thinks the debate is an important one to have, but not one that will necessarily produce answers. “I mean, how do I know the guy that did the shooting in Aurora was inspired by movie violence?” Church said. “What inspired the guy at Virginia Tech or the one who gunned down people in a Luby’s Cafeteria in the ’90s?”

In “Killer Joe,” Church plays Ansel Smith, the spineless patriarch of aTexas family who plots with his son to hire a hit man to kill his son’s mother for insurance money. The film was rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.” The film’s appeal to the MPAA for an R rating was denied.

“I don’t think the sex and the violence are necessarily gratuitous in ‘Killer Joe,'” Church said. “But it’s when you throw sex and violence in together when people start to squirm. I just think it was a little too much for the ratings board to figure out and understand.”

Church says it all comes down to a person’s individual value system whether or not they can handle watching something deemed cinematically vulgar. “There are things you will tolerate and things you won’t,” Church said. “I can’t speak for the MPAA, but to me [“Killer Joe” is graphic in a very honest way.”

Pointing fingers at the film industry for an increase in violence creates a very slippery slope for other media. Where then will society draw the line since the same issues can be made for music, literature, graphic novels, and cartoons?

“What’s next?” Church asks. “Somewhere down the line some guy is going to blame his wife cheating on him on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ I just can’t support an argument like that as an absolute truth.”

Imagine That

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”)
Written by: Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)

Eddie Murphy throws us for a loop with “Imagine That,” a comedy that is not half bad when compared to the movies he’s been offering up over the last few years including “Meet Dave,” “Norbit,” and “Daddy Day Care.”

Still, if something is not half bad, it’s only logical that it’s not half good either. While Murphy shows us some signs of life, it’s not enough to resuscitate the entire picture from a slow and exasperating crawl to the finish line.

In “Imagine That,” Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a stock market guru who is working hard to land a promotion at his financial company. A problem arises, however, when his coworker rival John Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a pseudo-Indian philosopher, makes a few better investments than Evan and is soon the trusted advisor to turn to by clients.

Along with the stresses at work, Evan is also getting an earful at home. Recently divorced, his ex-wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is constantly telling him how little time he is spending with his young daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), an unusually creative little girl, who has learned to cope with her parents’ divorce by creating imaginary friends and clutching a security blanket a la Linus from the Peanuts gang. Too busy following the stock market, Evan doesn’t have time to listen to the gibberish that Olivia is communicating to him from her fantasy world.

But when it becomes evident that her nonsensical chattering is actually successful stock tips told to her by her imaginary friends, Evan finds a reason to devote some time to his daughter while simultaneously squeezing out as much financial information he can from an unorthodox source.

While Murphy and newcomer Shahidi are a natural fit to play a father-daughter duo, there’s a strong sense of moral ambiguity that is fairly bothersome throughout the film. Evan is clearly exploiting his daughter and there are no ways screenwriters Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) can get around that fact. Tying a bow around their relationship and calling it a gift at the final second doesn’t make everything that came before it disappear.

The growth of Murphy’s character is at best stagey. You want to believe he is a good father, but nothing in the film’s first 90 minutes gives you any inkling of that characteristic. By the end, Murphy is letting us hear what any family-film moviegoer would want. Real life isn’t as predictable as “Imagine That.” Although Murphy doesn’t totally strike out (with a lot of help from cutesy co-star Shahidi), it’s not the movie that is going to help repair the questionable comedic choices he’s made since his last great one, 1996’s “The Nutty Professor.”