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 Michael Bergeron
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Celeste and Jesse and Killer Joe

Celeste and Jesse and Killer Joe
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Celeste and Jesse Forever proves that actors better known for television roles and supporting parts in movies have the chops to carry feature films. Indeed, pairing Rashida Jones with Andy Samburg would suggest a kind of outrageous comedy along the lines of Hot Rod but instead CAJF treats the audience to a more sophisticated romance driven dramedy.

The titular couple, in the midst of a divorce while remaining best friends, remain habitually in tune with one another. They annoy their other couple-friends by speaking in mock Teutonic accents at restaurants or just not bickering back and forth. The duo are upwardly mobile, with Celeste working at an ad agency that provides plenty of comic sub plots and characters (among them Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts). Chris Messina and Ari Graynor also provide good second banana moments. Think of the complications that can ensue.

Naturally Celeste and Jesse start dating other people with one even planning a successive marriage. Truth is Celeste and Jesse Forever, outside of a couple of the ad agency sequences, moves in logical ways that jive with the same feelings we all experience when going through the usual changes.

Killer Joe earns its NC-17 rating with copious full frontal (think merkins) and a simulated sex act involving a fried chicken leg. No matter how good you thought Matthew McConaughey was in Bernie and Magic Mike (and he certainly deserves the plaudits he got for those films) he completely changes the landscape of movie villains with his portrayal of a contract killer who also works as a detective. Director William Friedkin working with a script from playwright Tracy Letts (the two also collaborated on Bug) rips into Texas trailer trash with noir vengeance.

It’s not strange to see one of the most unique directors of the 70s show that he can still bring on the good stuff and create powerful cinema. Killer Joe looks sharp and brilliantly detailed (cinematographer Caleb Deshanel also brings the stuff) while each member of the desperate cast offers a provocative physical manifestation of their psychological self. Juno Temple is a demure jailbait teen while Gena Gershon exudes carnality and temptation. Likewise Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church repeat their loser spiral until they create a whirlwind that sucks everybody down. McConaughey initially hired to kill the group’s collective mother for insurance backs out until he spies Temple dancing like a waif in the wind.

Killer Joe occasionally reveals glimpses of its stage origin with much of the action taking place in a trailer home living room. Only at such times the intensity gets bumped up so high you won’t notice. Killer Joe revels in low life existence even while delighting viewers with its verve.

– Michael Bergeron

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