Sunday, September 30, 2012

TOO BUSY TO DO A PROPER 10TH POST THIS MONTH, SHUT UP



This is what I should do with football today. At some point I'll have to, due to my duties as a judge for this year's OneScreen festival. Details at the link.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

LET ME LOOP YOU IN


This is basically a public service announcement: Looper opens today, and if you like science fiction movies, great acting, and utter (morally defensible! self-critical!) fucking ownage, get thee to a cinema. For more, my non-spoiler review at Tor.com.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

KIND OF A REACH


I've written before (and kind of angrily) about the whole Tom Cruise/Jack Reacher mess, but after reading this mesmerizing interview with Reacher's creator, novelist Lee Child, I feel much more peace about the eventual Cruise-ening of Reacher. Also, Lee Child is fucking fascinating, and seems like an interesting guy to kick it with, as long as he doesn't head butt you. And he does seem to like head butting. (The link is NSFW, being at Playboy, but definitely read it when you get home.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

THE SOUND OF MY VOICE




My pal Asim Burney just posted an episode of his podcast we recorded last December, when Don 2 had just come out. Worth a listen, as the two of us go deep on Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Bollywood, Tom Cruise, SRK vs. Tom Cruise, and just about everything else on Earth. 

Two things I should mention, the conversation being so many months ago: our looking forward to Shirish Kunder's Joker so innocently back then is a little bittersweet now, with Joker having flopped so disastrously. And also, obviously, I no longer write for Next Projection, though there are no hard feelings and they have a lot of really good people writing for them.

But yeah, rent Don 2. It's fun.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

MASTERY FIRSTHAND: PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON'S THE MASTER


In a couple years, Paul Thomas Anderson will have finished chronicling the entire 20th century leading up to his debut as a cultural figure. There Will Be Blood covered up til the 1930s, with the saga of ur-Evil White Guy In a Suit, oilman Daniel Plainview. His next picture (status quo remaining as is) will be an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, set in the tail end of the 60s. Boogie Nights spanned the 70s and 80s. 1996's Hard Eight (aka Sydney) and 2002's Punch-Drunk Love were set, essentially, in the present day. Thus leaving the 40s and 50s, the post-war years, the era in American history with the highest ratio of mythology to actual analysis. And for those, Mr. Anderson, a man who probably orders coffee with grand, meticulously crafted boldness, has just released The Master.

The Master is a movie about matched pairs, opposition, internal duality, power struggles, lies, truth, truthful lies, lies with truth in them, contradictions, paradoxes, trauma, and healing. It's only about Scientology inasmuch as the years immediately following World War II—which fucked America up a lot worse than we were willing to admit at the time, instead doing that whole “la la la la la la we have picket fences and wives and two and a half kids and a dog and nothing bad happens ever la la la la la la” ostrich head-in-the-sand dance—were a time when charmers offering healing and higher truths had many receptive ears. We had just gotten our motherfucking asses kicked. I mean, yeah, you shoulda seen the other guy, but America was wobbly as fuck once that war ended. Said wobbliness is embodied in the picture's absolutely fascinating protagonist, WWII vet Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Freddie is an exploding mass of voracious desires and impulses, though far from a simple bestial raw id. He's pretty innocent about actually approaching women, more often finding himself fapping or mentally making women's clothes disappear. He's a savant chemist, making his own booze out of the vilest fucking shit imaginable. Like many driven (more?) nuts by the war, Freddie's wandering from disaster to disaster—the scenes where he loses his jobs as first a department store portrait photographer and then a migrant vegetable picker are both gorgeously photographed clusterfucks—when he suddenly, on spur of the moment in California, hops aboard a ship on its way out to sea.

It is on this boat where Freddie meets a strange, charismatic man named Lancaster Dodd, the titular master. Well, in one reading of the title; it's also about the aspiration of mastery over self, and a synechdocical homonym for masturbation (lots of fapping in this movie, both self- and other-administered, not to mention intellectual masturbation, of which there's a lot, but as a subject, not form). Freddie and Dodd bond over Freddie's uniquely horrifying self-made booze, which leads almost immediately to Dodd using his Scientology-ish “therapy” techniques to try and “correct” Freddie's animalistic tendencies. Freddie meets Dodd's family and intimates and the two form a tendentious relationship that spawns several years.

That one sentence doesn't, of course, capture the full scope and substance of The Master, which is a movie less concerned with plot as such and more with characters and subject, which is, to varying degrees, the desire to be led, and the lengths to which one will go to submit to a figure one perceives to be beyond oneself, be that figure father, God, or the Hubbardesque hybrid of the two presented in Lancaster Dodd. The fanaticism of Dodd's followers comes through most vividly through the two principal female characters (doing so in this manner is itself a neat bit of mid-20th century gender semiotics), Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and wealthy Philadelphian follower Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern). Though this is a world in which the women are a secondary focus, neither character is stuck being one-dimensionally worshipful. Peggy is constantly kicking Dodd in the ass to get him to stop fucking up and work, and Helen eventually suffers the wound known to all too many fans: that of realizing, in none-too-gentle fashion that so often the fan cares more about a work than its creator.

As much as PT Anderson is a pure cinema guy—as a child he wrote in a notebook a declaration that he would master every aspect of the medium; hey, there's another “master,” check that shit out—a lot of The Master reminds me of 20th century American novelists, big swinging dick white dudes like Norman Mailer (yeah, kind of, squint and you'll see it too), Henry Miller, and James Jones (less of a dick-swinger, but he's way up in this), with a vaporous hint of late-period F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he'd inadvertently drank himself into Struggling Modernism (that's struggling as in struuuuuuuuuggling, natch). That last manifests itself most prevalently in the extremely unreliable limited third-person narrator that is Freddie Quell. Whole scenes, whole fucking act breaks, may not have happened the way Freddie remembers them. This is, after all, for fuck's sake, a guy who makes cocktails out of goddamn paint thinner and boat motor oil (or whatever that heinous shit is that Freddie drains out of the engines of both his navy ship and Dodd's borrowed yacht). Are you really gonna take his word for it that “yeah, I just hopped over the rail and was on Dodd's yacht and then he did Scientology to me and then I was his Luca Brasi except I'm not supposed to know what either of those things are FUCK AM I DRUNK” or that suddenly all the women at that party were naked—note, in that scene, the only woman who doesn't appear full frontally nude is Amy Adams; even in Freddie's boner fantasy he was like, dude she's kinda scary, I don't want to piss her off—or that an usher brought him a phone in a movie theater? No. But all that stuff does a real good job of portraying the subjective point of view of a guy who's both bombed out of his goddamn mind most of the time and not all that bright to begin with, on which count it can be marked as a formal success on Mr. PT's part. The Master being to a large degree about contradictions, it's only fitting that its great formal triumph is that it consists of immaculately composed images and perfectly assured camera moves, in the service of a deliberately disjointed story told from the point of view of a man whose mastery of reality itself is, to put it mildly, limited.

PT Anderson has earned every right to be discussed as an equal to the directors most frequently cited as influences, dudes in the no-first-names-necessary-club like Altman, Kubrick, and Malick. PT's last two pictures have shown a mind that can keep pace with his balls; don't get me wrong, it's not like Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and so forth were dumb or anything, but these last two pictures are like “Time to fucking define the first half of the twentieth century, without breaking a sweat.” The Master, for one prominent example, is a story about the way stories are told and presented, and so shots frequently have frames within frames, as in the one where Dodd is first introducing Freddie to a bunch of rich dipshits in New York, and you see the one lady's “a-hoi, polloi!” facial reaction to Freddie before he enters the shot and you see him just totally not goddamn belong there.

Speaking of Freddie, holy shit you guys. Joaquin Phoenix. Whaaaaatthefuck man. He's stunning in this. Like, he's on the same level as Daniel Day-Lewis' “dude we're not even bothering to ask people to vote for Best Actor this year, we only have four other dudes on on the ballot because of protocol, and seriously, those dudes are on that ballot under heavy fucking protest” There Will Be Blood performance. None of the other weird and exasperating shit Joaquin Phoenix has ever done counts anymore. Any fuckup the rest of his career can be countered and obliterated with “Yeah, but The Master.”

And Philip Seymour Hoffman ain't that far off either. I read a couple things sniffing about how PSH ain't all that in this because he's not as good as Joaquin Phoenix but a) no, b) just no, and c) he's playing a guy who's almost always playing a guy for the benefit of someone or other. The scene where Amy Adams is basically quivering with rage and like dictating his book to him, when we cut to PSH he's just got this look on his face like he's more scared than anyone has ever been scared of anything. This is Lancaster Dodd with his guard down, and PSH calibrated it perfectly. Those moments in public when the facade cracks are great too, and kinda scary to be perfectly honest. They lay bare the lie that people (especially times infinity in post-WWII America) who have their shit together really do have their shit together. Any performance that encapsulates one of the great truisms in the history of this culture is okay enough to not have people shit on it because it's different from the other guy's.

Amy Adams is in constant danger of falling into one of two traps: the first, the “she's always good” one, that can lead to really precise and subtle work getting glossed over because she's doing it right and not tap-dancing with a neon “look at me!” sign suspended two feet above her head. The second is the “she's so cuuuute” trap. Now, the thing with both of these is that they're both true. She is always good, and she is divinely adorable. But that don't mean that when she's real good we don't as movie lovers and connoisseurs of good acting owe it to her to be like, “fuck, Amy Adams was really good in The Master” because, yeah. She's goddamn ferocious in this. And she manages to be so, terrifyingly at times, while still being the same Amy Adams you just want to hold hands and have a milkshake with (though she'll drink your milkshake in this movie, y'all, drink it up).

It's not fair to Laura Dern that her best performance in years comes in fourth, behind those massive main ones. But make no mistake, smaller part or no smaller part, she's back and she's here to remind you so-and-sos who's Laura Dern up in this. I'm not going to say when it is because I've already been a little too profligate with the plot details, but when “the disillusionment shot” happens, dude. Seriously. Laura Dern.

I could go on and on. The Master is a whole lot of movie, but it's surprisingly accessible if you pay close-ish attention, it looks and sounds gorgeous (the whole “ya gotta see it in 70mm” meme is a little annoying but I did see it in 70mm and the image quality was drool-worthy, so annoying ain't necessarily untrue in this case; also, Jonny Greenwood's score is tits and the songs are beautifully selected), and it's a major work by a great director. What more can you ask?

Just this: if you (reductively, of course) read The Master as a movie about a guy who's just trying, in the face of massive obstacles, to get laid, then the ending is immensely satisfying. It's a PT Anderson movie with a happy ending, people. That alone should send you in droves, torrents, deluges (sorry, it was raining when I got out of the theater) to see this movie. You won't have really had a 2012 at the movies without seeing it, too, so no pressure or anything.

Friday, September 21, 2012

THE UNIFIED FIELD THEORY OF REMAKES

In keeping with the theme of this post, this photo originally appeared on another blog.


So, remakes. They've been in the news lately, a statement that would be just as timely at just about any point my entire life, and nearly every time you hear them mentioned—unless it's in the trades—is in the context of someone bemoaning the death of originality. And I'm all for originality. It's great. But originality doesn't take place in a vacuum, and even the most groundbreaking, unprecedented, never-before-seen movies (just for one example, since we're here, though this is true in any artistic medium) have some connection to others. While that's all fine and good and “Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about cosmology”y, what this has directly to do with remakes is that there's nothing inherently wrong with remakes, since we're all made of stardust, man.

But, just because there's nothing inherently wrong with them doesn't mean that they sometimes aren't the most ear-dickingly fucking stupid thing ever. This is one of those moments were the can/should dichotomy comes into play. There are some movies that just shouldn't be remade, and those are movies where there's no reason to remake them. There are a number of legit reasons to remake a movie, including (but not limited to):

1) It's remembered fondly but not ardently defended as a timeless classic
2) Its subject matter might be interesting in a different culture or historical time period
3) It would be cool if a contemporary actor or filmmaker had a shot at the material
4) Circumstances prevented the original from being made to its makers' wishes
5) C.R.E.A.M.

Sure, the last is a little vulgar, but let's be real: the business of the movie business is business (h/t Calvin Coolidge), and unless you're remaking one of the tiny number of things in the public domain, you had to shell out a few bucks to get the rights to whatever it is you want to remake, and you want to reacquire some other bucks, preferably in larger quantity than the initial expenditure. What's more, the best way to make money off a remake is to follow one or more of headings 1-4. Thus, the remainder of this post will be about those, as they beget the last.


Remakes that worked, and why


1—One fondly-remembered, imperfect picture that led to an enormously successful remake (which itself spawned two sequels) was Ocean's Eleven. When one thinks of the original, the first thing that comes to mind is Sammy Davis Jr. singing and driving the garbage truck, because that was awesome. But that was a very tiny part of the movie as a whole, which consisted largely of the Rat Pack standing around being cool. Which, y'know, they kinda were, to enough of a degree that the whole movie passes the “did it achieve what it set out to” standard, but juuuuuuuuuust barely. The ending's a nice bit of dark irony, but when I want dark irony I don't go to the Rat Pack, I go to Steven Soderbergh.

Oh, hey, double-S! Didn't see you there. I've written about Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy at—extreme—length, so revisiting what I wrote before is perfect since we're talking about remakes. Even setting aside the fact that Soderbergh's version is a vastly better movie, the impetus behind the remake was “hey, let's make Ocean's Eleven with a contemporary gang of really cool stars only with a more consistent pace, a tighter totally implausible heist story and [this is as much a spoiler as the sun setting in the West] a happy ending.” And Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven fucking rocks; it's eternally rewatchable, whereas the original was something you saw once and went “yeah, Sammy Davis Jr. in the garbage truck, that was cool,” and never felt any burning desire to go back to.


2—You wouldn't think a remake of Memento would work, as it's a unique and ingenious bit of flash that, while it does establish the mildly annoying Christopher Nolan template (to wit, the movie that looks smarter than it actually is due to pizzazz/scope/sweep), is nonetheless a movie not like anything else. And considering that the main thing that was so cool about it was its good-for-one-use-only reverse chronological structure, it would seem un-remake-able. Because, I mean, really, otherwise it's just another amnesia picture, right?

Indian filmmaker A.R. Murugadoss thought otherwise. He remade Memento once in his native Tamil as Ghajini and then took his act to Mumbai and remade that in Hindi (again as Ghajini) with Aamir Khan. Not having seen the Tamil version, this is all going to be about the Aamir Ghajini, which is holy-balls-knock-you-on-your-ass rad. Murugadoss utilizes a more conventional flashback structure, cutting between a brain-damaged, amnesiac, practically bestial Aamir bent on revenge against the murderers of his wife but frequently thwarted by completely losing his memory at inconvenient times, and a happy, healthy, wealthy Aamir falling in love with said wife. The more heightened, more emotion-first nature of Indian filmmaking makes Ghajini a great big goddamn cry-your-eyes-out romantic tragedy (and, simultaneously, a harrowing, ferocious action thriller), where the British-American Nolan's take on essentially the same story was a colder affair, more consumed with cleverness and detached cool. Which is not to say Ghajini is better than Memento; actually the point I'm getting at is that the remake is enough its own thing that you can barely even compare the two, which in itself is as much of an endorsement in principle of remakes as one could ask for.


3—This almost falls under heading (2) but it belongs here: Infernal Affairs being remade as The Departed by Martin Scorsese. Infernal Affairs' killer premise—the cops have a mole amongst the crooks and the crooks have a mole on the cops—was made even more awesome by the fact that the moles were played by Tony “the good Tony Leung” Leung and Andy “Motherfucking” Lau. Infernal Affairs is unassailable ownage.

William Monahan's script for The Departed sets the same dynamic against the backdrop of Boston politics and criminal legend, recasting Eric Tsang's Triad leader as a paraphrased Whitey Bulger, and interpolating elements, bits of business, and whole scenes from the original. Which is all fine and good, but let's face it, potentially wanky. The Departed works because of Scorsese, who's gotten to the point where the tools of cinema exist as an extension of his will. The tone is wonderfully tense, and the quotations from Infernal Affairs work (well, except the Andy Lau/Eric Tsang cell phone scene toward the end; that was one of the coolest things ever and Matt Damon, great as he is, is not Andy Lau) because Scorsese stages them so well. As for The Jack Nicholson Issue that must be addressed in The Departed (the same as The Jack Nicholson Issue with just about everything he's been in since about 1972, which is that Jack does whatever the fuck Jack wants, take it or leave it), Jack's whole Jack thing totally fucking plays in The Departed because the whole goddamn point is that he's this larger-than-life whackadoo loose cannon trickster devil, and while Scorsese doesn't really direct him at all, he knew exactly what the hell he was doing casting Jack in the first place. That's the reason he shot all Jack's scenes with two cameras, so Jack could fuck around doing whatever and the chances of a usable take of it doubled (well worth the sacrifice of having to light all those scenes so neutrally). Anyway. Point is, The Departed is great independent of the original movie, and is so largely due to Marty.


4—Kind of cheating with this one, but take The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett's (fucking awesome) book was first filmed in 1931 and wasn't bad at all: Ricardo Cortez is cool as hell as Sam Spade, there's some hawt stuff with Bebe Daniels and they kept all the gay stuff from the book (Joel Cairo, the fact that Gutman's fondness for Wilmer is not just “as if he were my own son” as Sidney Greenstreet left things, they're openly shtupping; all hail Pre-Code). It's tight. And then there was the Bette Davis one, which is great because fucking hello, Bette Davis. But there were resources that the filmmakers responsible for the first two just simply didn't have access to.

The main one? Humphrey. Fucking. Bogart. The book said Sam Spade was “quite six feet tall”? Bogart's like, well, fuck that, I'm not quite six feet tall (many thanks for that setup, Dash me ol' china) but I am Sam Spade. And it's true. Bogart is Sam Spade. Sam Spade is Bogart. Greenstreet is Gutman. Peter Lorre is Joel Cairo. Ward Bond and Barton McClain are the two cops Bogart's constantly fucking with. And Mary Astor is Brigid O'Shaughnessy. This is why John Huston (completely on top of being able to take a screenplay credit just for typing the book up) was able to get away with remaking a picture that had already been made twice in the previous ten years. Resources the original makers lacked.

(Also, that whole “three Maltese Falcons in ten years” should put to rest any notions of ours being some uniquely remake-happy era.)


So, what are some kinds of remakes that don't work?

This is where we're at right now. The whole inspiration for this post is a number of extremely expensive, massively misguided remakes that are and will be coming out these days. Dumb remakes are nothing new—some putz remade Breathless, for shit's sake—but there's been a pileup recently of really, really stupid ones. The big one, which while not technically a remake nonetheless embodies a lot of the same danger signs, is John Carter. Parts, hell, large parts, of the picture are perfectly charming, but its ludicrous expense was far out of proportion to its name recognition, which is, in business terms, the whole point of remaking something, the fact that people have heard of the original.

Another massive commercial failure—that I've yet to see, so can't speak to its quality as a movie—was the Total Recall remake. The original benefited from Paul Verhoeven's meticulously controlled insanity, a genuinely clever script, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, some would argue that because the original Philip K. Dick story featured an ordinary guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances, remaking Total Recall falls neatly under heading (4) above. The reason I would not so argue is because Paul Verhoeven sitting there and going “VAT IF VE FOCKEENK GET ARNULT FOCKEENK SCHWARZENYEAGER TO PLAY ZE GUY” is the kind of half-insane, half-genius, half-blindingly retarded double bluff (there is no math in the Verhoevenian universe, only tits and ownage) that only Paul Verhoeven could conceivably even try let alone get away with. Also, dude, you don't remake Arnold movies. There's only one Arnold, and even Arnold is so strange an entity I fully expect to wake up one day like Julianne Moore in that one movie to be told he never existed. Don't get me wrong, I like Colin Farrell, but Arnold he's not, and the whole thing cost a ludicrous amount of money considering that literally not one person on Earth who wasn't directly involved in the production thought it was a good idea to begin with. And once the Robocop remake comes out, chances are about nine in ten it's going to lose money, too, because Robocop's an even better movie than Total Recall, and even more beloved by its target audience, whose loathing of the very idea of the remake banjaxes the entire fucking enterprise.

But at least Total Recall and Robocop were hits. Word's getting around about the Keanu Reeves remake of The 47 Ronin, which is something only people who are really, really into samurai movies have ever even fucking heard of. The studio decided to double down on the whole obscurity thing by hiring some dude who's directed about one feature and handed him $175 million based on him basically saying “Sure, it'll be great,” then fired the guy when he went $50 million over budget when all he was doing was shooting the script they fucking approved in the first place and now this poor guy's gonna have to be “the guy who was fired from that Keanu samurai movie, wasn't that a remake of something?” for the rest of his career unless the Hollywood fairy grants him the wish for a new hit movie. There's a school of thought, that has a good point, that all the obsessive reporting on the business bullshit obscures the ability to see movies as movies, and kind of creates foretold disasters. Which is why the possibility of The 47 Ronin making money is so remote, not to mention the fact that no one has ever fucking heard of The (original) 47 Ronin. Whether or not that's to their discredit or not is an aesthetic issue, the point remains it's a horrible goddamn idea gambling $225 million on people's name recognition of something that esoteric.

The Lone Ranger thing with Johnny Depp playing Tonto is a marginally better bet, even though it's even more expensive and based on something no one at all under the age of 40 except me and a couple other outliers has ever heard of. Johnny Depp is, much to the delight of 1995 me, now a box-office god, and he's reunited with the director of the series of movies that made him that thing; while that's not an ironclad guarantee by any means, it's still probably enough for it to break even. But still, that's a lotta goddamn money unless they have a time machine so they can open it on 4000 screens in 1956. And even then, everyone would be like “who the gosh darn heck is this Johnny Depp? WHERE'S JAY SILVERHEELS?” and then 50s Twitter blows up with a bunch of nerds ranting about boycotting it.


So, what the fuck?

While all those examples might seem to undercut my assertion that money was a legit reason to remake something, the twist is, those are all really bad ways to make money. All the successful remakes discussed in the first part share (aside from three of them being Warner Bros pictures, which is a coincidence) is, while none of them were bare-bones affairs, they were all under some kind of constraints: even The Departed had to shoot stuff that took place in Boston in New York City because of tax breaks. Obviously, there's more than one way to make a movie and some should cost more than others because sometimes cool shit costs money, but it's important to have a bit of perspective about the kind of movie you're making. Do The 47 Ronin for $50 mil, not $225. Do The Lone Ranger for $100, not $300. Do John Carter for $30. And leave Robocop and Total Recall the fuck alone (to say nothing of Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Vertigo, etc. etc.)

Obviously, feel free to throw this post back in my face when I'm a studio head and commission a $200 million movie version of Leisure Suit Larry.

Monday, September 10, 2012

MASTERY


There will, doubtlessly, be an enormous number of words written about Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. If you love movies and care about having really smart people write really good pieces about them, I cannot urge you strongly enough to read this review at Film Comment by Kent Jones. It is, as the title of this post states, mastery.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

OH, YOU NASTY....KILLER JOE

Matthew McConaughey, pictured not giving a fuuuuuuuuuuck

I was going to try and come up with some cute preface for this, but fuck that: Killer Joe fucking rules. It just does. It's the kind of disreputable, go-fuck-yourself, fuck the world and everyone in it movie that was de rigueur in the 70s—well, more in the 70s of lore than in the 70s that actually existed, but you know what I mean—and that is what it is as totally as it is because the guy who directed it is one of the towering fucking giants of that hallowed age, Mr. William Friedkin. This is a man whose balls' gravitational field affect the curvature of the Earth. An exacting, precise director with a style residing somewhere in the middle of the Venn diagram between naturalistic documentary technique, almost Pointillistic editing, and highly theatrical text. Enfant terrible. Shit-starter. Badass. Proprietor of a fun Twitter account. He's been pretty steadily working for the last forty-five years but it's been a long damn time since he made a picture as thoroughly reprefuckinghensibly awesome as Killer Joe.

It's based on an early play by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts, a man in whose plays his own mother said, “[e]verybody gets naked or dead.” Friedkin and Letts had collaborated before, on Bug, which like Killer Joe Letts adapted from his own play, and that was interesting and everything but this right here, this fuckin' Killer Joe, whoa daddy. It's not like Bug wasn't lurid or seedy or all that good stuff, but its resistance to genre (it felt like a movie that wanted to be horror but that Friedkin and Letts insisted on not being that thing in constructing it, if that makes any sense) lent a bit of unfortunately unshakeable “meh”ness to the endeavor as a whole, which is a shame, because it didn't have to be that way. Killer Joe has no such issues. It's nasty-ass Texas noir whose entire approach is foretold by the opening scene when Emile Hirsch is banging on the door of his father's trailer, demanding to be let in, only to have the door open and BAM Gina Gershon's bush in his face. Tone, set. The entire rest of the movie gives that little a fuck about all your pansy-ass decorum.

The story is standard noir, with a dollop of don't-give-a-fuck. A dumbass (Hirsch) is into a local heavy (Marc Macauley; he only appears in one scene but hooooooooooo shit is he good) for a few large that he doesn't have, so he and a dumber accomplice (his dad, played by Thomas Haden Church) cook up a “let's kill someone and collect the insurance money” scheme. The someone: Hirsch's mom and Church's ex-wife. The means: hire a cop (Matthew McConaughey) whose side gig is making people dead for a fee. Because dumbass and dumberass don't have McConaughey's 25 large up front, McConaughey initially walks, but then something better occurs to him: in lieu of his money, he'll take dumbass' sister (and, of course, dumberass' daughter, played by Juno Temple) as retainer until the insurance money comes through.

Noir, of course, is a realm where people wouldn't know ethical behavior if it fucked their wife and Ponzi schemed their life savings away (part of why, tangentially, Miller's Crossing is so awesome: see Jon Polito's opening monologue). So of course Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church (and Gina Gershon, stepmom/new wife respectively) are okay with pimping out Juno Temple to Matthew McConaughey. There's maybe as much as ten thousand dollars in it. And all that has to happen is for someone—someone they don't even like—to die.

With material this familiar, the draw is clearly the execution. Friedkin delivers in all possible ways, committing fully to the fucked-up material without judging it, carving out differentiation between all the different fucked-up people, and maintaining both the perfect menacing tone throughout and never letting the sleaze overwhelm the narrative momentum. The attention to detail is extraordinary; Thomas Haden Church, for example, in the one scene that calls on him to wear a suit, has the sleeve detach almost completely from the shoulder, a detail that encapsulates his manifest haplessness.

The cast is all top-notch, with Matthew McConaughey keeping his awesome 2012 going with an effortlessly natural and perfectly controlled portrait of a total fucking psycho. He's smarter than everyone else, so he looks like he's got his shit together, but, I mean, come on. You gotta be a little nuts to be a Dallas cop by day and contract killer, well, pretty much by day also. Emile Hirsch plays total (pardon the pejorative, but it's apt here) fucking retards really well, and he and Thomas Haden Church make quite the team. The latter finds all manner of beautiful little notes to hit in bringing the dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks dad to full, three-dimensional humanity. Gina Gershon has less useful and productive stuff to work with, as unfortunately the lot of women in so many noir pictures is to transcend the material they're given, but she turns in as rich a performance as the men without the advantage of having more interesting shit to play.

The most interesting character and performance, though, is Juno Temple's. Everyone in the movie treats her like either a child or, in McConaughey's case, a sex object, and her otherworldly unworldliness is a big reason why. But she sees everything. She may not have any frame of reference with which to process the shit she sees and hears, a state enforced by her asshole dumbfuck brother, lummox dad, and condescending strumpet stepmom. But she's no dummy. McConaughey may, in a very misogynistic caveman way, ask to be given her as though she has no say in the matter but she (spoiler, I guess) fucks him because she wants to, because he's Matthew McConaughey and even when he's a ripshit psycho, you fuck Matthew McConaughey. That's just what happens. I speak from experience as an owner of same (ahem): a pair of blue eyes like that open a lot of doors. (Ed. Note: once you're done laughing yourself into a coma over the author comparing himself to Matthew McConaughey, feel free to continue, pending your neurologist's permission.)

From bush-in-your-face start to go-fuck-yourself finish, Killer Joe is some kinda goddamn movie, boy, lemme tell ya. There are ownings that made me—me—cringe. There's lots and lots of nudity, not all of it all that fun. In neither case, though, does Friedkin ever make it feel like he's the one getting his rocks off on all this sleaze. He's just like, “Listen, I make whatever the fuck movie I want to make. I want to make a Texas neo-noir with a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright operating in 'fuck y'all' mode? That's what I'm gonna do.” To which the sophisticated cineaste, with a taste for the finer things in life, who isn't feeling particularly sensitive that day and is thus in the mood for something gleefully fucking nasty will say, “Carry on, good sir.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BETH EXPLAINS BOLLYWOOD

Raakhee, in Baseraa

Beth Watkins writes a weekly column about Bollywood for the Wall Street Journal and keeps the blog Beth Loves Bollywood. We've been known to shoot the breeze on matters Bolly, about which she knows far, far more than I. Here is a transcript (reprinted with permission) of Beth warning me not to watch a movie called Baseraa:


Beth: there are very few completely charmless Hindi films out there, I think
which is nice

me: yeah
though some of em are fuckin boring

Beth: yes
this wekeend I had one that turned itself inside out to set up reasons for people to maek big sacrifices
it was SO ANNOYING

me: yeah

Beth: it goes like this:
dude marries older sister
her younger sister hangs around them all the time, even coming on their honeymoon
younger sister gets married off to someone she apparently hates

me: oh ok not his older sister

Beth: as all we see her do is cry
no no hahaah
on her wedding day, her new husband, whose face we neer see, DIES
so she is a WIDOW
which is obviously the worst possible thing htat could ever happen to anywone

me: i'm a bad person for laughing at that, but proceed

Beth: so her older sister, the married one, sees her in the white outfit
and HAS A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
and is insitutionalized
which makes total sense obvs
oh no, I laughed too, you gotta
I mean come on
THEN
widow moves in with husband of crazy sister

me: set in the province of melhodramha

Beth: and they eventually GET MARRIED
and have a kid
so he has two wives
don't ask me how that works
while first wife is off in the asylum
14 years go by
and she gest better
and they decide she can be released
and you see where this is going
doctor says they should pretend everything is as it was 14 years ago

me: after 14 years in the bughouse? jesus christ

Beth: yep
so second son has to be shipped off to first son's fiancee's college dorm
(right)
and second wife has to pretend to be not a wife at all
etc etc

me: what the shit

Beth: and then in the end crazy first wife decides to pretend to still be crazy and gets hersefl instiuttionalized again
so that younger sister can be happy
.....
WHAT THE FUCK DOCTOR WOULD EVER COME UP WITH THIS

me: dude must have gone to medical school with patch adams

Beth: hehehehe
I mean, somehow this basic idea is kind of cute in Goodbye Lenin
(Goodnight LEnin? I can never remember the name)
but in this it is INSANE
due to the wives and kid and all

me: yeah that's just like
wut