Friday, 15 June 2012

SFF 2012: Killer Joe

William Friedkin is a maniac.

It's a sad fact that as they get older, many great directors seem to lose the fire that once made their more youthful works so incendiary. Well, if Killer Joe is any indication of Friedkin's current psyche, it's proof positive that once vital directors can not only rediscover that flame, but reignite it into an explosive bonfire.

At 77 years young, Friedkin has made a film that many of today's Young Turks would do well to take heed of. Where 2006's Bug showed great promise, and an obvious desire to continue to grow as an artist, Killer Joe is, without reservation, a resounding success.

It shares an obvious kinship with other southern redneck thrillers like the Coen's Blood Simple (there's some Wild At Heart/Blue Velvet era Lynch at play here too), yet not once does it feel recycled or predictable. Killer Joe is wholly it's own beast... and what a depraved, blood-thirsty beast it is. This is black humour so utterly dark, that the only way I can describe it is Nihilist Comedy.

Speaking of which, it is without a doubt the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. When I wasn't picking my jaw up off the ground, during one of it's many completely insane what-the-fuck moments, I was just laughing my ass off (as was the rest of the packed audience... the entire theatre was roaring with approval). Thomas Haden Church in particular is hysterically funny. I was in stitches at almost every line he delivered.

Matthew McConaughey is pretty amazing in this. "Creepy" doesn't begin to describe his performance, and he joins Willem Dafoe's Bobby Peru as one of the most vile, menacing redneck villains of all time. Gina Gershon blew my socks off too. People always talk about "gutsy" performances, but hers here is the real deal. There's a lengthy scene in this that I can only imagine was very unpleasant for her to perform. You'll know it when you see it.

Then there's the violence. And the sex. And the shocking, horribly uncomfortable, sexualised violence. And Gina Gershon's bush. Killer Joe pulls no punches, and it's not hard to see why the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for "graphic aberrant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." Suffice it to say, you'll never look at KFC the same again (not that you should look at KFC anyway, it's gross).

The US distributor of this film should be applauded for refusing to bend over for the MPAA, choosing instead to support Friedkin's violent, nihilistic vision... no doubt at the expense of a larger take at the box office. Because of this, I encourage everyone to get out and support this one if it happens to come to your town. You won't regret it.

We just don't see many American movies like this one any more.

Monday, 11 June 2012

SFF 2012: Rampart

In Oren Moverman's Rampart, Woody Harrelson gives the performance of his career as Dave Brown, a late '90s L.A. cop whose modus operandi on the street is brutality and corruption, without the slightest twinge of conscience or remorse. This pig is so morally bankrupt that the Bad Lieutenant would probably rat him out to internal affairs.

If you thought Harrelson was menacing in Natural Born Killers, wait 'til you see him in this. The menace here is more internalised, but it never lets up for a second of his screen time, boiling away just below the surface, ratcheting up the tension to uncomfortable levels. It's a cliche, but Harrelson's officer Brown really is a walking time bomb. A spring loaded trap of barely controlled rage, imminent violence and universal hatred. In his own words:

"I am not a racist. Fact is, I hate all people equally."

Homophobe, misogynist, racist... this cop proudly wears his poisonous beliefs like a badge of honour. The trouble is, everyone around him is finally reaching the extent of their tolerance for his behaviour... and officer Dave Brown isn't heeding the warnings.

Rampart is an outstanding example of classic L.A. noire, solidly anchored by a sharp, caustic screenplay by James Ellroy - almost certainly his best to date (remember, he wrote the source novel for L.A. Confidential, not the screenplay). Harrelson deserves awards for this, but he isn't the only one to shine: Sigourney Weaver is also at the top of her game here in a relatively small part, and it's obvious that she's going to remain a force to reckon with as she moves into her senior years. The other star of this movie is the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski, which is just impossibly beautiful. Through his lens, the City of Angels has never looked better.

Rampart is powerful stuff. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

SFF 2012: Despite The Gods

Penny Vozniak's documentary Despite The Gods sits comfortably beside its brethren Lost in La Mancha and Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse as a fascinating and poignant portrait of a passionate filmmaker struggling against the odds to achieve their dream. Except sometimes that struggle ends in something like Apocalypse Now, and sometimes it ends in... Hisss.

The film follows Jennifer Lynch's first foray into filmmaking since 2008's Surveillance (which was awarded Best Picture at Sitges), an Indian/American co-production called Hisss (with a working title of Nagin: The Snake Woman), which was shot entirely on location in India. Lynch is out of her element in an unfamiliar culture, and an even less familiar film industry, and it quickly becomes evident that she is struggling to cope with the pressures and stresses of this new environment. The production seems to be foundering from the very outset, and things only go from bad to worse as Lynch continues to slog through a grueling shoot that lasts many months.

Despite The Gods is often laugh-out-loud funny, providing a welcome counterbalance to the constant feeling that everything you're seeing on screen is about to implode in a very ugly way. I found Lynch to be very likable, in a good-humoured, self-deprecating sort of way. At the beginning of the film she speaks candidly of the cruelty she suffered at the hands of the press in the wake of Boxing Helena, and the tough years that followed, when amongst other things she cleaned houses for a living. Perhaps most poignantly, she also discusses her obviously painful memories of the time following her father's greatest failure, Dune (coincidentally his third feature too), when "he didn't speak for a year". Her fear of failure whilst recounting this is palpable and moving, and again, greatly endeared her to me.

As a consumer, it's easy to take the whole process of filmmaking for granted, so it's good to be reminded by documentaries like this that your two hours of enjoyment are often the end result of thousands of hours of painful, difficult and thankless toil for the cast and crew. Succeed or fail: hats off to them all.

Sydney Film Festival 2012

The SFF has kicked off for another year, and this time around I'll be posting a few quick capsule reviews of some of the films I see.

Unfortunately the fest got off to a lousy start for me when the screening of Maury and Bustillo's Livide turned out to be a complete fiasco. A word to the French distributors who provided the print: next time you send a film to a festival in a non-French speaking country, you might want to consider sending a print WITH FUCKING SUBTITLES. It was a theatre-full of righteously pissed off patrons who exited the screening five minutes into the film... but none more so than me. I've been dying to see this film for two years now, so needless to say I was LIVID with rage. Sorry.

Back tomorrow with reviews of Despite The Gods and Rampart!