This week, we have three very different movies, two foreign films featuring actors that will be unfamiliar to most American moviegoers and one by a legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker who seems to have lost his way later in his career. Of the three we've reviewed, we can recommend the raunchy Danish comedy Klown
(Drafthouse Films) and the French-Canadian drama NUIT #1
(Adopt Films), but not William Friedkin's take on Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe
Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard; Written by Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam
Starring Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam, Marcuz Jess Petersen
After over a decade entertaining Danish audiences, comedians Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam arrive on these shores with a movie based on their most recent television characters with results that are far more accessible to American audiences than other Scandinavian films that have made it over here.
The simple premise involves the duo going on a canoeing trip with Casper hoping for lots of debauchery, and those plans running aground when Frank kidnaps his 11-year-old nephew Bo to prove to his pregnant wife that he can be a good father.
While the Danish sense of humor and timing is not something that's easily accepted by those unfamiliar with that country's films, "Klown" does its best to break through the cultural gap often created by Scandinavian films. Possibly because we don't know these characters as well as those who had a chance to see their television show, it takes some time to adjust to their humor and personalities - Casper and Frank are both funny guys but they're not exactly very good actors. There's an interesting contrast between Frank's constant anxiety and Casper's bravado, the latter constantly giving bad advice to the former that culminates in something bad happening to Frank. Early on, Casper teaches Frank something called "man-flirting," a trick you can use to get anything you want and like everything else in the movie, it's set-up for a joke that culminates in something outrageous.
The duo end up at a massive music festival where things get horribly worse for both of them and things tend to get a little madcap with a lot of running around to music like on "Benny Hill," but where the film really starts winning you over is the last act, which is actually rather touching as they try to make up for their earlier wrongdoings. Much of the film is shot using a similar low-fi handheld camera approach as some of Von Trier's earlier films with the wedding scene that opens the movie harking back to some classic Danish films by Dogme filmmakers.
It's a strange movie for sure with jokes that often go so overboard, it's hard to just laugh them off--there are images that are hard to forget--but Christensen and Hvam are sharp writers with such a distinctive sense of comedy that fans of the "Hangover" and "Jackass" movies should appreciate even if "Klown" still feels far more original than the majority of comedies coming from the States.
Directed by William Friedkin; Written by Tracy Letts
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Every once in a while, a movie comes along you want to give a second chance even though the first time watching it made you sick to your stomach. I hated William Friedkin's adaptation of Tracy Letts' "Bug" when I saw it years back--you can read my review here
)--and in hindsight, some of that could have been due to not being adjusted to Michael Shannon's distinctive acting style at the time. As it happens, Shannon also originated the title role in Letts' previous play ‘Killer Joe,' though for Friedkin's movie, the role is played by Matthew McConaughey. It turns out that playing a Texas police officer turned hitman is a role perfectly geared towards the actor, although his performance is so strong it makes it that much more obvious how head and shoulders he is above the rest of the cast.
Despite Killer Joe's name being in the title, the movie is more about a loser named Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, and his white trash trailer park family, and how Chris is convinced he should hire a hitman to kill his mother to collect her insurance money. This is where Joe comes in, but he doesn't trust Chris can pay up so he agrees to do the job as long as he can have Chris' simple-minded teen sister Dottie as a retainer.
Granted, this is based on one of Tracy Letts' earlier plays, but the whole point of "Killer Joe" seems to be to shock people, but things are taken so far and it's hard to imagine what this might have been like as a stage experience.
McConaughey's performance is easily one of his best in many years and the fact Friedkin could capture such a performance on film is one of the film's few saving graces, but it just makes it more obvious how bad everyone else is. Emile Hirsch's performance as Chris is just so ridiculously over-the-top as is, but then you add to that Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon as his white trash parents, and you have many moments that are hard to stomach. These are all decent actors, but their Southern accents and delivery are so awful that it seems like a bad high school play much of the time.
Maybe the movie is intended to be funny, but it's certainly trying to get laughs from a very dark material and once we see the scene in which the disturbing sexual relationship between McConaughey's character and Juno Temple's significantly younger girl plays out, there's no going back. We can only assume that Tracy Letts' work has gotten less edgy since then, but the movie earns its NC-17 rating from a couple violent sexual encounters. There's aspects of the movie, especially the last act that involves a dinner confrontation that comes off a bit like something Quentin Tarantino might come up with, but it takes so long to get there and it does little to make you like the characters any more.
"Killer Joe" is an ugly, ugly film that leaves you feeling dirty inside, especially if you find yourself being entertained and amused by its characters and what they do to each other.
Written and directed by Anne Émond
Starring Catherine de Léan, Dimitri Strorage
French-Canadian filmmaker Anne Émond's look at the secrets we keep from people we only expect to meet once and never again is an intriguing affair, not only due to the two actors she's cast but also due to a screenplay that plays out much like a two-handed play.
Clara and Nikolaï meet at a rave and go back to his place for a one-night stand, but neither is everything they seem and over the course of the night, they learn way more about each other than they'd ever want to.
After the nearly dialogue-free erotic intro that brings the two together, this is a dialogue heavy film that consists of a number of lengthy monologues, most of them done with a single camera shot on the person speaking. It's the type of thing that would work well as a play but may not make for the most exciting film to watch if not for the two fantastic actors Émond cast in the two main roles. Maybe it's due to my gender that Catherine de Léan is far more riveting to watch compared to Dimitri Strorage's monologue.
Because there are no other characters, it really depends heavily on the viewer wanting to watch the two leads. Both characters go into very dark territory in revealing their innermost secrets making it hard to empathize or feel bad for either of them. In that sense, "NUIT #1" is more of a film that can be enjoyed due to Émond's tenacity at maintaining a very specific style and pace within a single setting without feeling the need to break out into any sort of cinematic acrobatics to keep it more interesting i.e. no cameras swinging around the characters while they talk.
The movie does go outside Nikolaï's apartment a few times if only briefly, including a moment in the rain that comes across almost like avant-garde dance as he tries to get her to return to their conversation.
It may take some time for "NUIT #1" to grow on you but the two performances are phenomenal making Émond's directorial debut an unforgettable experience.