It's easy to look at Killer Joe and just see a Matthew McConaughey thriller. But it's worth noting that this is a movie made by William Friedkin, a guy with a serious résumé. No, he doesn't make films as often as he used to, but his CV includes The French Connection, The Exorcist and To Live and Die in L.A. The point is, he knows how to make a movie, even one as small and grimy as this one. Tracy Letts adapted his own play for the screen, and it's easy to see how this could work on the stage.
It begins with Chris (Emile Hirsch), soaking wet and desperate to get out of a rainy night and into a disheveled trailer. There, he tells his dad, Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church), that his own mother stole his stash of cocaine, and if he doesn't come up with $6,000, he's a dead man. Ansel's solution is simple—hire a hit man to kill Chris' mom so they can collect the insurance money, in the hopes of saving Chris' skin and coming up with some extra scratch for his kid sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). The man for the job is Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas cop who kills people for money on the side. The thing is, Chris and Ansel don't have the down payment Joe requires, so they offer up Dottie as collateral.
Yeah, it's as unsavory as it sounds, and Friedkin never wavers from violence or degradation when it comes to his characters, who are as lowdown and low-class as you'd expect. Except for Joe, actually. That's always been the thing about McConaughey: Despite all the craptastic action movies and vomitous romantic comedies he's made, once in a while he turns in a really interesting performance. He's cold, calculating and exceedingly polite here, like a wolf, but his attraction to Dottie leaves him oddly vulnerable in a film that's about exploiting vulnerability.
Killer Joe—opening Friday, Aug. 17, at Hillcrest Cinemas—is not a particularly pleasant movie, but McConaughey is pretty fearless in terms of how far he's willing to go. And since the movie is rated NC-17, he can go pretty far.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.
Easy Money: Swedish thriller about a student who turns to crime to keep up his affluent lifestyle.
Ek Tha Tiger: This Bollywood action romance shot around the world screens at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
The Expendables 2: Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme join the agingaction-star party, along with Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Willis, Li and the Governator.
Paranorman: Everyone thinks Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, is a freak because he can talk to ghosts. That talent comes in handy when his small town is invaded by the undead. New 3-D stopmotion film from Laika, the folks who made Coraline.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton can't have a kid. That is, until there's a knock on the door and an odd little boy who apparently grew in their garden tells them that he's theirs.
Searching for Sugar Man: When two South Africans try to learn how an obscure American singer-songwriter from the '70s died, they get more than they bargained for. Despite that sounding like a feature, it's a pretty damn good documentary.
Sparkle: Whitney Houston's final film is about a girl group that has to deal with the difficulties of success.
One Time Only
When Harry Met Sally: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan waste a lot of time before getting married. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at Gingham in La Mesa.
Tommy Boy: Dumb film, but Chris Farley was a pretty funny guy. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at Gingham in La Mesa.
A Little Princess: When her father goes missing, a wealthy girl is forced into servitude at her boarding school. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also made Y tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, in the food court at the Piazza Carmel Shopping Plaza.
Saturday Night Fever: These days, who knows who's the one John Travolta wants? Dinner's at 7, film rolls at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at The Range in Hillcrest. Star Trek: J.J. Abrams' franchise reboot doesn't really go where no one has gone before, but it's still damn entertaining. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido.
Murder on the Orient Express: Hercule Poirot is on the case, and you'll be drinking Spanish wine while he solves it. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.
Oceanside International Film Festival: The fall film-festival season kicks off in Oceanside with a collection of features, documentaries, shorts and more. It runs Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19, and all the details can be found at ocaf.info.
Ball of Fire: College professors, led by Gary Cooper, decide to come down from their ivory tower to see how regular people live, and they end up saving Barbara Stanwyck from the mob. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Reading Cinemas Town Square.
Manos: The Hands of Fate: Usually considered to be one of the worst movies of all time, this cheesy horror flick will get its ass handed to it by RiffTrax at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at several area theaters. It's live on the East Coast, tapedelayed here. Hit fathomevents.com for locations and showtimes.
The Holy Mountain: Man, Alejandro Jodorowsky's psychedelic meditation on religion, sex and everything in between has to be seen to be believed. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Ship in the Woods in Del Mar. See shipinthewoods.com.
The Wizard of Oz: There's no place like home, except at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 16 and 17, when you can visit Oz at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Let's Surf Seriously: The new one from TransWorld Surfing screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse: The Fritz Lang series continues with this 1933 film about a crime wave in which all signs point to the infamous Dr. Mabuse, who's been in a mental institution for more than a decade. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
The Lost Boys: Before he shot wannabe terrorists, Kiefer Sutherland was a vampire. Screens at midnight, Friday, Aug. 17, at the Ken Cinema.
The Breakfast Club: Don't you forget about me. No, really. Don't. Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, and Tuesday, Aug. 21, at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
The Real Dirt on Farmer John: This documentary about an eccentric American farmer is accompanied by all kinds of organic community-based events, including sourdough wood-fired pizza! Great film, cool folks at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Wild Willow Farm and Education Center in Imperial Beach.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: The slightly underrated second outing screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18 and 19, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Shining: All work and no play makes Jack Nicholson a scary boy at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Time warp. Again. Midnight, Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Ken Cinema.
Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story: The San Diego Jewish Film Festival lights the fire for next year's fest with this look at the older brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the only Israeli commando killed during the raid on Entebbe in 1976. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
The Neverending Story: Decent kids movie, but it ends just halfway through the wonderful book. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Beneath the Waves Film Festival: This collection of marine-issue documentaries will screen as part of Space 4 Art's presentation of The Great West Coast Migration on Sunday, Aug. 19. Get details at sdspace4art.org.
I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful: This documentary about rebuilding a post-Katrina New Orleans was made by Jonathan Demme. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
The Sound of Music: Wouldn't it be weird if the hills really were alive with the sound of music? Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, at Reading Cinemas Town Square.
Singin' in the Rain: It's the final encore presentation of the classic Gene Kelly musical. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at several area theaters. Visit fathom events.com for locations and ticket info.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Good news, everyone! This is the original, with Gene Wilder playing the mysterious candy man, rather than the crappy Johnny Depp-Tim Burton remake. Screens at 8 p.m. in the food court at the Piazza Carmel Shopping Plaza.
Sideways: Still the best wine movie of all time. Sad sack Paul Giamatti takes his buddy Thomas Hayden Church to the Santa Barbara wine country for a two-man bachelor party. It'll make you want a big glass of pinot. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
300 with RiffTrax: The guys formerly known as Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on the abs of Sparta at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry: Director Alison Klayman pulls together a fascinating look at the Chinese activist, dissident and artist and the price he's paid for speaking out. Ends Aug. 16 La Jolla Village Cinemas.
The Bourne Legacy: Jeremy Renner takes over the franchise, which is now directed by Tony Gilroy, the guy who wrote all of the other Bourne movies and directed Michael Clayton.
The Campaign: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis spar over a North Carolina congressional seat.
Celeste and Jesse Forever: Rashida Jones, who co-wrote, plays Celeste, who's trying to stay friends with her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jesse (Andy Samberg).
The Healing: In this Filipino horror flick, a faith healer conjures up exactly the sorts of things she's trying to dispel.
Hope Springs: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones turn to Steve Carell to put some zip back into their marriage.
Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D: The crazy guys in the Nitro Circus do all kinds of death-defying stunts that would put the Jackass crew to shame.
Nuit #1: After a one-night stand, Montreal strangers try to get to know each other.
Unforgivable: Bad things happen when a writer of crime novels gets a little too interested in where his wife goes each day. Ends Aug. 16 at the Ken Cinema.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: If it feels like they release one of these every summer, that's because that they release one of these every summer.
Farewell, My Queen: A behind-the-scenes look at Marie Antoinette's palace in the early days of the French Revolution, as seen through the eyes of a woman whose job is to read books to the cake-eater.
Ruby Sparks: The first film since Little Miss Sunshine from co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris stars Paul Dano as a writer whose latest creation, a gorgeous, quirky girl named Ruby, comes to life.
Total Recall: Less a remake of Arnie's 1990 flick than a new adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's short story. Colin Farrell plays Quaid, a man who starts to believe that everything he remembers might not be real. Kate Beckinsale is in the Sharon Stone role; Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston also star.
Adventures in Wild California: Here's what happens when the state has a few drinks and flashes the camera. Actually, no it's an IMAX movie about nature that's screening on Fridays at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Queen of Versailles: This documentary about a couple that run into the nation's economic collapse while trying to build the largest residential home in the United States, is a fascinating examination of the 1 percent. Ends Aug. 9 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Step Up Revolution: This time the dancing is in 3D! And Miami!
The Watch: Originally called Neighborhood Watch, this comedy—starring Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn as suburbanites in over their heads while trying to protect their 'hood—had its title changed after the Trayvon Martin killing.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy concludes.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: This Sundance success, about a little girl living in Louisiana after an apocalyptic environmental disaster, is beautiful and beguiling.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: So cold.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Apparently, he does whatever a spider can. In 3-D, too.
Katy Perry: Part of Me: She's also in 3-D!
Savages: Oliver Stone directs this thriller about two pot growers, played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, who take on a Mexican cartel after the bad guys kidnap their girlfriend (Blake Lively). As in, they share.
Take This Waltz: Michelle Williams is just amazing in Sarah Polley's second film, playing a Toronto woman who's happily married to a cookbook author (a surprisingly restrained Seth Rogen) but finds herself falling for her neighbor.
Deep Sea: This IMAX undersea film was made by Del Mar's Howard and Michele Hall and is narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Magic Mike: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey and some other oiled-up boys take off their clothes for dollar bills.
Ted: Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend gives him an ultimatum: It's either her or his walking, talking, foul-mouthed teddy bear, voiced by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, who also wrote and directed.
To Rome with Love: Woody Allen is his own worst enemy, because every time he turns out a mediocre movie—and this pastiche of stories set in Rome is certainly mediocre—it gets judged against his previous work.
Tyler Perry's Medea's Witness Protection: What the world needs now, apparently, is another Medea movie.
Brave: Princess Merida would rather be shooting arrows than playing dress-up, but when she defies her Scottish tribe, she sets loose a horrible curse that only she can fix.
Your Sister's Sister: Lynn Shelton's latest improvised film finds Emily Blunt taking Mark Duplass to her family's vacation home while he's grieving his dead brother, and he ends up getting busy with her sister, Rosemarie DeWitt.
Moonrise Kingdom: Set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, this new one about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away from the dysfunctional adults in their lives will be adored by those who worship at the altar of Wes Anderson.
Madagascar 3: Apparently kids still fall for this. Parents, too.
Prometheus: Ridley Scott returns to outer space, exploring the origins of humanity and the original Alien. It's worth seeing on the big screen and in 3D.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
The Intouchables: French blockbuster sensation about an aging Caucasian paraplegic who hires a poor young black man to be his caretaker.
Snow White and the Huntsman: Big-budget retelling of the fairy tale finds the huntsman (Thor's Chris Hemsworth) teaming up with Snow White (Kristen Stewart) to try to end the reign of the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron).
Men in Black 3: Will Smith has to go back in time to prevent Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement from murdering Tommy Lee Jones, who's represented in the past by Josh Brolin.
Battleship: Peter Berg's adaptation of the Hasbro board game, pitting the American Navy against invading aliens, is seriously loud and explodey.
Bernie: Jack Black plays the real-life Bernie Tiede, a popular Texas funeral director who was convicted of murdering an 81-year-old widow.
The Dictator: Sacha Baron Cohen—aka Borat, Bruno and Ali G—is back as a despot willing to do anything to prevent the spread of democracy.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: There's a charm to this movie about British retirees who outsource their retirement to India, mostly because the cast is made up of folks like Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith.
The Avengers: It set box-office records for the biggest opening weekend ever, and for good reason. Joss Whedon's take on the Marvel franchise is well-written, superbly edited, funny and enormously entertaining.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Hunger Games: The most anticipated movie of the year to date is about a dystopian future where teens like Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are forced to kill one another to stay alive.
Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity: Liam Neeson narrates this IMAX film, screening at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Born to be Wild 3-D: Despite sounding like yet another animated animal movie, this is an IMAX film about baby elephants and orangutans and the people who love them. Oh, and it's narrated by Morgan Freeman. Collective sigh for the baby monkeys, please.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.