When Matthew McConaughey first struts into Killer Joe as the titular renegade-detective-for-hire, the editing dissects him as a carefully composed individual. Close-ups on various parts of his ensemble compartmentalize him, including the obligatory but encapsulating wide-brimmed hat. Long and black, it can consume and mask Joe’s face in the kind of shadow that comes to reign metaphorically over the film as a whole. Killer Joe is a darkly comic crime saga of dumb, unlikable people doing horrible things to each other; it’s a succulent bit of Southern shlock that affords plenty of opportunity for director William Friedkin and his talented cast to show just how hideous they can get. It’s more fun than it has any right to be, if you don’t mind despising every character on the screen.
Killer Joe is Friedkin’s second collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts, who penned the play the movie is adapted from as well as the screenplay for Friedkin’s 2007 film Bug. While Killer Joe is tonally different from that reality-questioning psychological thriller, it is similar in its claustrophobia, its lingering sense of evil, and its grounding in pulpy narratives driven by actors navigating the space between completely serious and mentally unhinged. After this second collaboration Friedkin and Letts feel like kindred spirits, respecting each other’s craft while bringing out the best in each other. (more…)
The titular planes that tear across the skies in Red Tails (2012), financed and executive produced by George Lucas, were piloted by none other than the Tuskegee Airmen. I once met a Tuskegee Airman. An alumnus of Morehouse College, my alma mater, he was one of a number of luminaries set to receive a lifetime achievement award for his years of service in the community. He was a man whose then-enfeebled condition belied the amazing contribution he and his brethren made during the Second World War.
In our era of ever-present cynicism, it is refreshing to look back at a time when young men were drafted into military service and defended America with a sense of duty. With that being said, it’s difficult to glamorize the theatrical reproduction of these war films behind the guise of a dramatic shift in race relations on the big screen. Incorporating African Americans into the greater American jingoistic narrative does nothing to reconcile our history of institutionalized segregation on film. The war films that are typically thought of as great pictures—Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few—manage to display the action and spectacle of war while still recognizing its terribly destructive effect on human beings, but often they fail to examine race in a truly significant way. Despite having an all-black cast, Red Tails shies away from making any sort of real statement about race—or war, for that matter—and instead focuses on delivering an adrenaline-pumping journey through the skies.
The major narrative surrounding the film is George Lucas’s personal struggle to produce the film over the past 23 years. (more…)