Archive for the ‘If you liked…’ Category

Back in 1984, the brothers Joel & Ethan Coen introduced themselves to the world with a dirty, little slice of Southern gothic noir called Blood Simple.  And while they’ve since served up such tasty gems as Miller’s Crossing, Fargo & No Country For Old Men, their first film in the eyes of many of the fans remains the best.  I’d be hard pressed to argue that point.

The movie features the debut performance of future Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a Texas bar owner’s wife who is having an affair with a well-meaning if easily duped local.  Dan Hedaya plays the abusive husband who is wise to his dearly beloved’s wandering ways.  He hires a private eye (played to often hilarious perfection by M. Emmet Walsh) to get enough dirt on her to protect his interests from a future divorce.   Backstabbing, blackmail and betrayal soon follow.  People die.  Often.  It’s a perfect little movie done on a low-budget by people who probably weren’t sure if they’d ever get a chance to make another flick.   The brothers put everything they had into it and squeezed every last bit of talent out of their cast.  If you’ve never seen it, remedy that situation sooner rather than later.

The Coen Brothers classic is probably going to be easy for you to track down as it’s widely available on DVD and Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the latest film from director William Friedkin, Killer Joe.  Saddled with an unnecessary NC-17 rating by the ever-myopic MPAA, most major theater chains will refuse to carry it.  So if you live in a smaller town that only has a Cinemark, you’re probably shit out of luck.  But if you’re fortunate enough to have an ‘art house’ theater that carriers all that Oscar bait come December, there’s a good chance you might actually have a chance to see this wonderful and darkly comic flick.

He’ll kill you…with a smile!

Like it’s cinematic cousin Blood Simple, Killer Joe is a country-fried Texas set noir populated by bad people doing terrible things to equally bad people and making poor decisions with dire circumstances.  The titular ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper is played with almost charming menace by Matthew McConaughey as a Dallas police detective with a side business in murder for hire.  He’s approached by a family of bumbling idiots and petty criminals to eliminate their matriarch whose life insurance policy promises to pay out $50,000.  None of them are particularly fond of her and that money can go a long way towards remedying some of their woes.

Not smart people

Being the losers they are, they don’t have the scratch to cover Joe’s fee.  Fortunately, the daughter has caught the eye of the stone cold killer.  The family offers her up (like chum to a shark) as a retainer on their future earnings from the insurance and set them up on what might be the most awkward and disturbing first date in the history of cinema.  There’s another dinner scene that closes out the movie in shocking fashion and I promise that you’ll never look at fried chicken the same way again.

No thank you!

Perhaps inspired by McConaughey’s award worthy performance, the rest of the cast delivers the goods as well.  Emile Hirsch plays the son who hatches the plot to get out of some debts owed a local drug boss.  Thomas Haden Church once more calls forth his inner-Lowell as the clueless, spineless father.  Gina Gershon channels pure white trash as an evil, duplicitous step-mom, and Juno Temple is the Lolitaesque object of Joe’s affections whose future propels the plot to its grim conclusion.

Some flicks are worth putting in some effort to find.  This is such a film.  I hope you get the chance to see it on the big screen, but if you don’t there’s always DVD/Blu-ray.  And you can eat dinner while you’re watching it.  Just not chicken.  Trust me.


This week a horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, opened that has been sitting on a shelf in some MGM backroom since 2009.  Perhaps you’ve seen the spoiler-filled trailers.  When a movie is held for years from release, this is not usually a good sign.  These movies tend to…suck.  Thankfully, such is not the case here.  MGM went into bankruptcy and couldn’t afford to release it because of legal issues.  It’s the same reason there hasn’t been a new Bond flick for far too long.  Smaller studios considered buying it from The Lion.  Deals fell through.  When Lion’s Gate finally got the rights, the release date was pushed back.  All this foreplay created buzz amongst horror geeks.  A secret showing at Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon late last year and a premier at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival only served to fan the flames.  Now that the movie has finally arrived, I can safely say it was worth the wait.

From the minds of former Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel collaborators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, this is a smart horror flick.  Well written, well acted, funny.  Think of it as a deconstruction of the first two Evil Dead flicks and you’ll have a good idea where it’s going.  The third act throws the entire movie on its head and goes in a completely different direction you probably couldn’t have anticipated.

You should check it out.

All this love for the film got my noodle to reminiscing on some other fun genre send-ups I’ve seen in the last few years and it eventually landed on a fun, little Canadian gem from 2010 called Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Good Guys

Tucker & Dale are just a couple of down-on-their-luck, well-meaning country boys who’ve scraped together enough cash to buy a dilapidated country shack that they wistfully plan to turn into their dream vacation getaway.  While on their way to their new abode to begin some repair work, they stop at a rural gas station for necessary supplies.  Unrelated, a group of college kids are at the same station stocking up for a weekend camping trip.  Allison, one of the campers, catches the eye of Dale and he is immediately taken with her.  Despite Tucker’s urgings, he’s too shy to approach her and can only admire from afar.  The college kids take note of our erstwhile heroes and perceive them as creepy, backwoods trash.  Silly profilers.  The two groups part ways and there’s no real reason why they should cross paths again.  But then we wouldn’t have a movie if that were the case.

As it happens, the cabin and camping site are relatively close to each other.  Late that same night while fishing, the good ole’ boys come across the same swimming hole where the horny, young adults have decided to skinny dip.  Tucker and Dale, unseen at this point, spy young, beautiful Allison standing atop a rock bathed in the moonlight.  Dale panics when he sees her start to disrobe, and in the act of trying to announce their presence startles her to the point of falling off the rock and striking her head.

Gratuitous half-naked shot of The Heroine

The boys come to her rescue of course and pull her limp body into the boat.  Allison’s cohorts see this from afar and take it as an attack.  They run away frightened for their own lives.  Tucker & Dale, confused by their response but fearful for the injured girl,  take her to their cabin to tend to her wounds and the asshole kids, having seen too many horror flicks and emboldened by alcohol, devise a plan to save their ‘kidnapped’ friend.

What follows is a classic gory comedy of misunderstandings as the school-of-hard-knocks boys tend to their home and their guest while the educated punks seek retribution on the hillbillies they’re convinced are out to murder them all.

Bad Guys

There’s a lot of a great visual cues in this movie that bring to mind the classics of the genre.  The plot is tight and the script is witty and fun.  The acting is the true winner here.  Katrina Bowden’s Allison is not the archetypal blonde bimbo often found in a slasher flick.  There’s some substance there.  Tyler Labine as Dale is charming and sweet.  He’s a genuinely nice guy with a big crush on a pretty girl.  He’s got no game but he’s winning her over.  Alan Tudyk of Firefly flame (there’s that Whedon connection again) plays Tucker to exasperated perfection.  He’s frustrated and confused by the proceedings.  He’s just wants to be left alone to enjoy his new cabin and  to spend some quality time with his friend.

But he’s not getting the weekend he’d hoped for.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Instant Streaming.

Apparently, I’m the only person in America who didn’t see The Hunger Games this weekend.  That’s alright.  I’ll get around to it.  Nor have I read the books mainly because with the notable exception of Ms. Rowling’s epic series, ‘Young Adult’ stuff lands with a dull thud at my dainty size 7’s.

Anyway, the movie racked up the third-highest box office weekend in history behind only movies featuring Batman and Harry Potter.  155 Million Dollars.  And there are two more books in the series.  Think there’s gonna be a sequel?  Katniss is officially the shit.  And she doesn’t owe it strictly to the tween girls to whom she was targeted.  The movie drew to men and women, old and young. 

Now, I’m not here to discuss The Hunger Games.  Like I said, haven’t seen it.  I was just thinking that of all those eyes that landed on young Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role, few had probably ever seen Winter’s Bone, a film from 2010 in which she also starred and for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Winter’s Bone is strikingly similar to the newer film in many respects.  Both films take place in dirt poor mountainous regions of the U.S.  Both feature Lawrence as a young girl in her late teens who, absent a father figure, must struggle to provide for and protect her siblings and her mother.  In both films, through circumstance, she is thrown into a cruel world where adults would just as soon see her dead if it served their purposes.

Winter’s Bone, however, is most definitely not geared towards the kiddos.  In the film, Lawrence as Ree must deal with the extended absence of her father and the impact it’s had on her family.  The father is a notorious cook and dealer of meth in their Ozark town and was recently arrested.  Upon being bailed out, he disappeared but not before putting the family’s rundown home up as collateral on his bond.  As his court date quickly approaches, Ree is warned that, if he fails to appear, the county will seize the home and put her and her family out on the street.

What follows is a desperate search by Ree to bring her father in to stand for his crimes.  She doesn’t care if he’s guilty.  She can’t afford to.  She just knows that they can’t lose the house.  She encounters road blocks every step of the way as she tries to break through walls of secrecy and loyalty in a region where everyone knows what happened but no one’s talking.  Her only ally is her uncle, Teardrop , who is himself an addict.  At first. he warns her off and tells her to leave it alone.  But reluctantly he accepts that familial bonds require him to protect his niece.  And he does so with gusto.  Teardrop is played to menacing perfection by John Hawkes who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film.  The resolution is both chilling and sadly inevitable.

I picked Winter’s Bone as my favorite movie of 2010 and I stick with that assertion.  It’s dripping in southern gothic dread.  It’s just a damn fine movie.  Check it out if you get the chance.