Friday, August 3, 2012

Film Round-Up, August 2012: Goats, Killer Joe, 360, The Queen of Versailles,

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, we have a classic mixed bag. Though I will say that Killer Joe is excellent and marks the continued comeback of Matthew McConaughey, actor. These reviews previously appeared in the August issue of ICON and are reprinted with permission. 


Goats (Dir: Christopher Neil). Starring: Graham Phillips, David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Keri Russell, Justin Kirk, Dakota Johnson, Anthony Anderson. Fifteen going on 30, Ellis (Phillips, TV's The Good Wife) heads east to an elite boarding school, leaving behind two unusual, emotionally stunted guardians: his narcissistic New Agey mom, Wendy (Farmiga), and Goat Man (Duchovny), a mellow goat herder and botanist who permanently resides in the pool house. As Ellis flourishes socially and academically in New England—and reunites with his estranged, straight-laced dad (Burrell)—life in Tucson fades away. The emotionally needy Wendy takes up with a douchey mooch (Kirk) while Goat Man remains strangely incommunicado, mostly because shipping pot through the U.S. mail is too risky. The large number of subplots plus the lack of a compelling central conflict prevent this coming-of-age tale from gaining momentum. Just when we're covering territory we like, Neil, an acting and dialogue coach making his directorial debut, sends us somewhere else. The problem is, I don't think he knows the final destination. Mark Jude Poirer adapted the screenplay from his novel. [R] **

Killer Joe (Dir: William Friedkin). Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon. In debt to the wrong people, Texas dirtbag Chris (Hirsch) hatches a plan to make amends. The beneficiary of his mother's $50,000 life insurance policy is his little sister, Dottie (Temple). Kill mom, whom no one will miss, and everybody gets a share, including Chris's moron father (Church) and shrewish stepmother (Gershon). To perform the act, the cash-strapped Chris hires crooked Dallas detective Joe Cooper (McConaughey), who takes the child-like Dottie as a "retainer" for his services. And things get complicated (and delightfully weirder) in this atmospheric, really dark comedy featuring a stunning, coiled spring performance from McConaughey, who has spent a good portion of 2012 reminding us that his charisma has value beyond intolerable romantic comedies. Directed with gothic flair by Friedkin (The French Connection), this white trash film noir masterpiece doesn't have a lick of pretension. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts wrote the script, which is based on his off-Broadway play. [NC-17] ***1/2  

360 (Dir: Fernando Meirelles). Starring: Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, Gabriela Marcinkova, Juliano Cazarré, Maria Flor, Dinara Drukarova, Jamel Debbouze. A gigantic international cast participates in this philosophical think piece on connections and life paths written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen). Law and Weisz are unhappily married in London. She's having an affair with a hunky photographer (Cazarré), whose fed-up girlfriend (Flor) returns to Brazil. On her way home, she meets a recently released prisoner (Foster) and an older gentleman (Hopkins) on a fruitless search for his missing daughter. Hopkins' character, now in Phoenix, then attends an AA meeting with a young married woman (Drukarova), who loves her boss (Debbouze), a morally conflicted Muslim dentist. And that doesn't include the subplots involving the gangster's bodyguard, a clueless prostitute, and her bookish sister. Morgan and Meirelles (City of God) encounter the two issues that befall many ensemble films: abruptly ended storylines and characters of inconsistent quality. What's frustrating with 360 is that the gaudy architecture dilutes the power of the film's message. Form doesn't follow function. Excellent performances—especially Foster and Hopkins—occasionally cut through the condescension. [R] **  

The Queen of Versailles (Dir: Lauren Greenfield). Florida's Jackie and David Siegel were determined to build their gaudy version of paradise: a 90,000 square foot mansion modeled after Versailles. (Their current house is a paltry 26,000 square feet.) Among the features in America's largest house: 10 kitchens, a ballroom, and a baseball field, which is totally practical since it doubles as a parking lot. Then, the stock market took its awful tumble, decimating David's time-share empire and causing the family to make sacrifices. "They might actually have to go to college," says an exasperated Jackie of her kids' suddenly not-so rosy futures. Greenfield lets her subjects speak for themselves, and she gets material better fit for a Christopher Guest feature. Jackie, now economical, loads multiple carts during a Christmas shopping run at Wal-Mart. The Siegels' nanny is overjoyed to move into the kids' old playhouse. David's solution is to work until he's 150—and he's serious. In this stellar, sober effort, Greenfield avoids turning high-maintenance Jackie and gruff workaholic David—whose marriage strains under the pressure—into caricatures. They're just hopelessly adrift, the result of countless years of distancing themselves from a reality they never planned on encountering. [PG] *** 

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