Thomas Haden Church

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) is a small-town ice plow driver in rural Quebec who has a bit too much to drink one night, heads out for a plow and accidentally hits and kills a man in the middle of the road. Panicked, and still more than a little drunk, he hides the body off the side of a road and heads into the woods in an effort to elude the police and the consequences they bring with them. He awakes the next morning in a plow almost out of gas and nearly buried in snow. Staying out of jail soon takes second place on his list of priorities right behind staying alive. As Bruce scrounges empty cabins for food and checks local papers for news on the dead man we see flashbacks to the days leading up to the accident. Details about his personal life and state of mind are revealed, and a portrait of a sad, defeated man comes into focus. And then we learn that the dead man was no stranger and in fact was a recent acquaintance of Bruce’s. Whitewash is a slowburn thriller laced with blackly comic moments and a blanket of never-ending snow. Even as the tone shifts slightly between the serious and the absurd, the one constant is the cold that pervades the film and everything in it.

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terrencehadenhoward

A little indie film called Cardboard Boxer has just made a couple huge steps toward earning everyone’s attention once it’s ready for release. Said steps will probably not be as effective as a multi-million dollar ad campaign complete with fast food tie-ins, but they’re developments that should prove to be a lot more exciting to fans of film than decorated fry boxes. According to Variety, charismatic and respected acting titans Thomas Haden Church and Terrence Howard have both agreed to join the film in starring roles, and the respect they bring to the table is likely going to be invaluable when it comes to selling Cardboard Boxer, because it also comes with a concept that sounds a little skeevy. According to Variety’s rundown of the film, its story follows a homeless man living in Los Angeles who finds that his idyllic, homeless lifestyle gets interrupted and thrown into peril once he falls into the hands of a troublemaking group of rich kids who have been getting their trust fund jollies by paying underprivileged people to fight one another. Gross, right? Still, the grossness could be well done, because the filmmaker bringing it to us is one of the guerrilla video entertainment originals.

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For such an unrelentingly graphic and blood-spattered NC-17 thriller, William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe is more romantic than one would expect. The filmmaker behind The Exorcist and Sorcerer (a movie he’s currently fighting to get back out to the public) has crafted, as he puts it, a romantic comedy for the new age. That title isn’t a whole lot different than his previous collaboration with playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts, the even more claustrophobic and humanistic Bug. They’re stories of characters wanting more, but mainly love, which Dottie (Juno Temple) finds in the titular psychopathic (Matthew McConaughey). Here’s what director William Friedkin had to say about making Cinderella for the 21st century, the importance of reading between the lines, and how one of cinema’s finest chase scenes was completely unscripted:

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Killer Joe

Exploitation cinema is good for the id. Because the great majority of us are not thieves, murderers, sociopaths, or people with problematic sexual instincts, exploitation cinema provides a safe space and an opportunity to view characters who may be any of the combinations noted above without having to experience the debilitating guilt, life-ending consequences, or moral panic that would incur if we ever engaged in such activities ourselves. In other words, exploitation cinema is a brief respite from a reality mostly determined by standards of law and order, rational behavior, stability, and long-term thinking. Exploitation cinema provides the exhilaration of chaos that is enthralling to witness onscreen, but that one wouldn’t want to encounter in anything resembling reality. While William Friedkin’s Killer Joe is a film that fully earns its NC-17 rating with its portrayals of abject cruelty, predatory sex, and strange and unusual acts of punishment, it’s never a film that asks audiences to take the events onscreen all to seriously as Killer Joe doesn’t even seem to even take itself at face value. The movie’s mood and ending will certainly polarize audiences, but if one is willing to accept and go along with the esoteric tone Friedkin strikes (and there are perfectly legitimate reasons not to do so), then Killer Joe is likely one of the more engaging films of the year if for no other reason than its sheer audacity.

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Killer Joe is trash. Not bad trash. Not pretentious trash. Just plain old ugly, funny, and sophisticated trash. William Friedkin‘s stage adaptation of Tracy Letts stage play is not as accomplished as their previous collaboration, Bug, but it’s definitely more unhinged and surpasses many of its fellow genre brethren. If you thought Bug was “crazy,” just wait until you get to Killer Joe‘s final minutes of magical brutality. Before we get there, however, what we’re served is a fairly conventional story that only makes that final act all the more satisfying. As with Bug, Killer Joe does not follow the cleanliest of people. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), a young and annoying hick, wants to do what all good sons aspire for: kill his mother who sold his drugs. Said mother, a woman Chris and his sister despise, holds a life insurance check that would payoff 50,000 dollars, so the young lead and his family decide to claim it.

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Director Andrew Stanton, being somewhat of the miracle worker that he is, has managed to capture the strengths of the original Star Wars trilogy while avoiding much of what was wrong with the prequels with his John Carter. This Disney epic provides for all of a boy’s basic needs, wants, and desires that Lucas’s prequels didn’t deliver upon. Stanton knows their sweet spot – and yes, I know how creepy that reads – by hitting all the major checkpoints required for them: beefy hero, beautiful love interest, sweet weaponry, non-pandering comic relief, big aliens, and exciting flying things that could not look more like the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi. How do these amazing devices work, you ask? They just do. Stanton treats the more fantastical aspects of John Carter like George Lucas did, “It’s just there, and who cares how it works or how it got made?” Overall, John Carter bears both many connections and thankful distances to the Star Wars series. Just how Luke Skywalker saw the vast universe Lucas created, there’s not one scene of Carter condescending to the mechanics or bizarro nature of the world – Mars, which they call “Barsoom” – he’s thrown into and never saying something along the lines of, “Isn’t this costume goofy, guys? (*wink* *wink*).” When things get silly, Stanton and his cast always play it straight-faced and with nothing but respect, like the original Star Wars films did. Carter doesn’t question the idea of huge white apes, he […]

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We Bought a Zoo strives to be Cameron Crowe‘s biggest crowd-pleaser yet, and it’s coming after two of his most splitting features. Elizabethtown was not met kindly and Vanilla Sky either blew your mind or frustrated the hell out of you, despite being a film that made one of the most likable movie stars around a narcissist often hidden under a nightmarish mask — how many directors do that to movie stars? Not many. Crowe doesn’t exactly disfigure Matt Damon in his Christmas release, but the film does what Crowe usually does best: showing good-natured people simply trying to do their best. While speaking to Crowe, he reminded me a lot of his films — someone who clearly wears his heart on his sleeve, and not in an artificial way. In fact, the first thing Crowe said to me left a goofy smile on my face for days, which is what his films usually do as well. The man was kind enough to give me extra time, and even by the end I felt like we could have gone on for hours. The writer-director and I spent more time than I expected but hoped on Vanilla Sky, as well as his writing process, how old films are like diary entries, and why it’s easier to make cynical films nowadays.

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Let’s get this out of the way now: I’m a Cameron Crowe fan. Some find his work cheesy. I, on the other hand, believe Crowe’s humanism is endearing and sincere. Somehow, when everyone else has drunk the cynical Kool Aid and acts too cool for school towards anything that wears its heart on its sleeve, the director remains optimistic about life and (ugh) people. Crowe, who aims high to plant a big smile on your face, does so here more than competently. The surface-level concept of We Bought a Zoo is fairly ridiculous-sounding: Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) buys and decides to rebuild a broken-down zoo. I’m not sure how We Bought a Zoo differs from Dave Blank’s true life story, and while watching the film and even while writing about it at this very moment, it doesn’t matter. The most important part of Crowe’s adaptation is that, every emotion is genuine. The “getting the zoo back in shape!” serves as a metaphor for Mee attempting to rebuild his once happy family — heavy shit, right?

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In an unprecedented move, 20th Century Fox will be holding a massive “sneak preview” event for Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo a full four weeks before the film opens for the Christmas holiday. The film, scheduled to go wide on December 23, will now take over a different holiday, playing in more than 800 theaters around the country on the Saturday of this year’s Thanksgiving weekend, November 26. The studio is reportedly holding the sneak previews based on positive test screenings, in hopes that the massive launch will spawn both good word-of-mouth from regular filmgoers and a spat of fresh reviews from critics who shell out their own cash to jump the review gun. Fox is also partnering with TOUT (some sort of social media hub that I’ve never heard of that relies on “video status updates”) to allow viewers to post reviews of the film (presumably via quick video snippet). Fox is also reportedly crafting a larger social media campaign that includes tie-ins with Twitter and Facebook. Based on Benjamin Mee’s memoir, the film follows a single dad (Matt Damon) who hopes to reinvigorate his family life with a new home – one that’s in the middle of a ramshackle zoo whose rebuilding the family takes on. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, and Patrick Fugit. The last two trailers for the film have won the hearts of both myself and our own Cole Abaius, so here’s hoping that the film delivers on its promise.

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The first trailer for Cameron Crowe‘s adaptation of Benjamin Mee‘s memoir We Bought a Zoo hit the interwebs back in September, and while that trailer aimed a bit too squarely for the heart, I’m a sucker for Crowe working for emotion, and the shades of Jerry Maguire (the quitting! the Tom Petty music!) work for me like nothing else. Throw in some animals, cute kids, and soaring music, and I’m a mewling mess of feelings-goo. But if you’re not as gooey as I am, this new international trailer might work much better for you. Check out the international trailer for We Bought a Zoo after the break, featuring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning and Patrick Fugit.

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FSR

Kevin Carr reviews this week’s new movies: The Taking of Pelham 123 and Imagine That.

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Fat Guys at the Movies

After a couple good weeks with at least one good movie to enjoy, Kevin and Neil hit the dog days of the cinematic summer. The Fat Guys debate the ability of John Travolta to be a badass and wonder why Eddie Murphy is still making films. Neil also threatens to stab Kevin in the eyeballs.

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Have a drink with the Smart People

I hate smart people, but I liked Smart People. It reminds me of my family, only without the intellectuals, pot smoking and acrid dysfunction. Still, getting through the characters’ problems in the film can cause you to drink a bit, and here’s some help in that matter…

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