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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 9, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 28
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
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The Killer Inside Me takes a hard look at the sociopath
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

The Killer Inside Me
Now Playing
Landmark
Varsity Theatre


Warning: This film is not for the squeamish. Warning: This warning is not an exaggeration. I can handle a good deal of cinematic violence and this film pushed me to my limits.

The Killer Inside Me is based on the '50s-era pulp novel of the same name by Jim Thompson. Thompson also wrote screenplays, co-writing Stanley Kubrick's early films The Killing and Paths of Glory. Other films based on his novels include The Getaway, The Grifters, and an earlier version of The Killer Inside Me starring Stacy Keach as Lou Ford.

In the 2010 version of The Killer Inside Me, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a small-town West Texas deputy with a solid reputation, a sassy girlfriend (Kate Hudson), and a nasty little secret. One day Ford goes out to check on a local prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba) and he ends up roughing her up a bit before he fucks her (in all fairness, she hits him first). Everything, including murder, extortion, incest, and all manner of mayhem, spirals out of control from this point of departure. And believe me, this badass little flick has a little of everything.

The storytelling is tight. The plot unfolds purposefully at the perfect pace with periodic leaps of shocking revelation. Under director/co-writer Michael Winterbottom's expert direction, Affleck unwraps Lou Ford with methodical precision, and you can't look away no matter how evil he is (or how bloody things get). The viewer and the film's other characters discover the truth about Ford together, which is an extremely interesting narrative trick.

The West Texas landscape is shot lovingly by frequent Winterbottom collaborator Marcel Zyskin in familiar cinematic terms. The film looks like an homage to the classic style of shooting the mythological western space. Some might call it cliché, but I prefer to think of it as situating the film within a specific cinematic tradition.

Casey Affleck may not be the handsome brother, but he certainly is the talented one. He surprised me with his sharp performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (apparently the name Ford brings Affleck mojo). Here he is perfect as an emotionally detached sociopath who's long on confidence and short on empathy. It's a fascinating performance and one that could have easily gone awry.

Jessica Alba is really good at getting her face punched in. I mean really, really good at it. If you're into that sort of thing, you'll enjoy The Killer Inside Me. Also, if you're into that sort of thing, you're a total sicko. Alba also has a couple of other good scenes as the masochistic call girl who figures the deputy as her way out of the sex business and out of town (in a way, she's right).

Veteran Ned Beatty returns to the big screen as the small town's big-dog contractor, Chester Conway. Beatty is always good, and here he gets to be all "Texas rich guy who's not very nice and way smarter than he looks." Kate Hudson, Bill Pullman, and Elias Koteas (another excellent character actor) are along for the ride and do solid work in supporting roles.

The Killer Inside Me (yes that's a dirty double entendre) is a nicely turned out neo-noir flick that's heavy on the violence. However, it's also a razor-sharp look at how (or if) sociopaths come to be. The film is horrendously violent and probably goes a bit further than it needs to, but the violence is central to the film's larger aims. It's about pure violence and the kind of evil that perpetrates pure violence. In our violent world, that's a valid cinematic theme. However, I wouldn't eat much before you see it. See it fast; it's not in Seattle for much longer.


Predators is textbook Hollywood fun - just don't think about it
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Predators
Opening July 9


Predators is not cutting-edge sci-fi. On the contrary, if I had to teach a class on the classic Hollywood action/adventure style I'd have the students watch Predators. It's textbook.

The Predators team (producer Robert Rodriguez, director Nimród Antal, and writers Michael Finch and Alex Litvak) have purloined from the best of classic Hollywood to make a fun summer movie that's a great way to blow a couple of hours. And the monsters are delicious.

A group of strangers end up in a jungle together, most of them armed to the teeth. They must figure out where they are, who brought them there, and why. Ultimately, they must also figure out how to avoid becoming a trophy on a very nasty dude's wall.

I knew going in there would be altruistic heroism, ugly surprises, and unredeemable villains. I knew there would be rescues from precipices, fortuitous falls affording fantastic escapes, and über-violent fisticuffs in which nobody gets seriously injured. I expected booby traps, dangerous flora/fauna, and guns perpetually filled with ammo. I wasn't disappointed.

Predators is like your favorite pair of jeans, and there's a good reason why Antal and crew made these familiar cinematic choices. It's because they work and they have worked for a very, very long time. Predators may not make you think, but that's not its game.

I'm afraid I've turned my partner Steven into a bigger movie snob than I am. He was slightly disappointed in Predators, feeling like he'd seen the movie before. Well, to be fair, he has. Though not with these characters (the Predator character is brilliantly conceived despite this being only the second movie to truly exploit the potential) in this setting. That's how the classic Hollywood movie works. If I want my buttons pushed this summer, I'll go see I Am Love, Winter's Bone, or The Killer Inside Me. But I don't always want my buttons pushed.

Adrien Brody (Royce) has been in the gym; Topher Grace (Edwin) has not. They are both solid actors with little to do other than grimace and show resolve. Grace gets a solid D for his work because the change his character goes through feels unearned. Brody gets a B because his character's arc is pretty well modulated if utterly predictable (not totally his fault). The rest of the cast are cartoon characters - fun cartoon characters, but still cartoon characters. In fact, Laurence Fishburne's character talking to himself elicited a couple of unintended snickers.

If there's a twist on the style, it's got to do with the moral ambiguity/deficit of nearly every character in the film. Sure, I was rooting for the humans at the start, but the more I found out about each of them, the more they all started to look a lot like the other guys. Who said this flick wouldn't make you think?

Actually, I said that, and while I do recommend you see Predators, I hope you don't actually think about it.


Lisbeth Salander's return a fiery disappointment
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Girl Who Played with Fire Opening July 9

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has returned to Stockholm. Still haunted by the dirty deeds handed down by her court appointed guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), she wants to make sure he understands the score, that the video of their little unreciprocated sexual romp still exists. Besides, she has friends in Sweden, people dear to her heart, and while they can't know her exact whereabouts, that doesn't mean she still can't drop by for a visit.

Fresh off his short incarceration, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is busy back at work editing Millennium, the noted Swedish political magazine known for breaking stories most news organizations are afraid to touch. One of his reporters is on the verge of breaking a major story involving Eastern European sex trafficking, but when he and his girlfriend are brutally murdered, things take a sudden and unforeseen turn.

Making matters even more perplexing is the fact that Lisbeth is the chief suspect, her fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Mikael doesn't believe his former ally is to blame for this crime and is sure someone is setting her up as the fall guy in order to keep the sex trade story from coming to light. Soon the investigative journalist is using all of his tricks to uncover the truth, digging towards conclusions so preposterous they cannot help but be genuine. But Lisbeth is also on the case, her reasons for proving her innocence having more to do with familial revenge than they do the pursuit of justice.

The second installment in the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire picks up a few months after the labyrinthine events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But where that cinematic adaptation of the popular crime potboiler was an absorbing mystery filled with twists and turns and featured two unique characters easy to root for, this sequel is a rather slapdash effort that's sadly nowhere near as effective.

While Lisbeth and Mikael continue to fascinate, the mystery they're drowning in isn't very interesting, and the surprises feel more coincidental and haphazard than organic and natural. Jonas Frykberg's screenplay isn't nearly as sharp or as pointed as the one for the first film, while new director Daniel Alfredson can't build tension or create atmosphere as effortlessly as Niels Arden Oplev did in the original. This middle chapter is a seriously bumpy ride, and by the time it was all over my enthusiasm for this series had taken a swift jolt that I'm not sure it's going to be able to recover from in time for the October release of the final epic, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

I'm making this sound worse than it actually is. There are some admittedly sensational moments, and the opening confrontation between Lisbeth and Bjurman bristles with tension. There's an awesome scene at a secluded countryside home between the diminutive computer hacker and a couple of burly bikers, while the hugely creepy penultimate standoff had my palms sweating and my arms covered in goose pimples.

Additionally, while the mystery itself does tend to strain credulity, I did like the way the filmmakers balanced Lisbeth and Mikael's parallel storylines. One definitely eases right into the other, both working fairly seamlessly with the other making the point where they ultimately join feel reasonably natural. I also felt both actors were, once again, sensational, Rapace proving to be so magnetic I weep for the poor actress who has to step into her shoes for director David Fincher's rumored American remake.

But I do have serious reservations about the narrative itself. There are times where it almost felt like Frykberg and Alfredson were making things up as they went along, and what worked extremely well in Larsson's prose doesn't translate nearly as beautifully when streamlined for the cinema. The coincidences are almost laughable; a second-act car chase leading to a brutally violent yet weirdly dull boxing match borders on the absurd. The film often loses focus, going off on tangents involving characters nowhere near as interesting or as compelling as Lisbeth and Mikael continue to be.

It does not help that the whole thing climaxes in a cliffhanger that will likely infuriate those who have not had the chance to read the original novels. While the main storyline does wrap up the majority of its tangents, that doesn't make the ones left hanging any less galling. The whole thing reminds me of how I felt as a kid watching the finale of Back to the Future Part II, and like Doc Brown being zapped away into nothingness, bearing witness to this yarn's final minutes kind of made me want to scream in aghast fury.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh it is only because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo set such a gloriously high bar, while The Girl Who Played with Fire floats along aimlessly well below it. When the film works, much like its predecessor, it is an enjoyable thrill ride. Unfortunately, even with its two stars delivering crackerjack performances, this sequel just doesn't work enough to warrant the ticket price, making the much-hyped return of Lisbeth Salander a maddening disappointment.




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Where It's At: LaVette, Lambert, Silversun Pickups top July shows
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A Dyke About Town: Political performers and chamber music
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Lynch, Ferguson, Harris, same-sex couple get Emmy attention
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VIDEO - Argentina: If divorce didn't end the world, marriage equality won't either
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The Killer Inside Me takes a hard look at the sociopath
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Predators is textbook Hollywood fun - just don't think about it
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Lisbeth Salander's return a fiery disappointment
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Scissor Sisters show, M.I.A. album, Jason Mraz fight for equality
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Northwest News
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Letters
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