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Killer Joe

JUST in time for Christmas, a caustic portrait of a lowlife family etched in bad acid.

It gets pretty brutal. Consider yourself warned.

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a low-rent drug dealer in trouble. He needs money to pay off a fearsome loan shark. So he contrives a scheme to kill his double-dealing mom and divide the $50,000 insurance money among his dense dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church, priceless), his trampy, pants-optional stepmom Sharla (Gina Gershon) and his aptly named sister Dottie (Juno Temple), not quite right in the head since her mom tried to suffocate her as an infant.

To accomplish this, the family needs the outside assistance of the title character Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a comparatively smart Dallas police detective with a sideline in the business of murder-for-hire. Because the family can't pay Joe in advance, the deal would fall through. But Joe experiences a stirring of creepy desire for the beautiful, fey Dottie, and negotiates the murder with the girl as collateral.

Even Dottie goes along with this arrangement, but Chris, his sense of panic increasing, has second thoughts when some deep vestige of fraternal loyalty kicks in.

It's truly wicked and more than a little perverse, but there is much to love here too. Haden Church is a very smart actor who excels at playing dumb, Gershon does some of her best work as a low-cunning succubus and Temple boldly straddles the line between innocence and familial perversity.

But you have to give props to McConaughey. He can be repellent as a leading man, but when the character he plays is actually repellent, he becomes weirdly captivating.

Director William Friedkin may be best known for The Exorcist, but he seems most at home in tales of bad behaviour and this may be the most vivid expression of his feel-bad misanthropy since To Live and Die in L.A. This also represents a different approach for the director, once a tyrannical perfectionist who now seeks spontaneity in performances, as you can judge from an interview on the Blu-ray extras. HHH1/2

Resident Evil: Retribution

GIVEN that the Resident Evil franchise is the most lucrative of all video-game-based movies, one must grudgingly admire their success, even as they riddle bullets into narrative coherence and fire grenade launchers at conventional notions of plot and character.

Resident Evil No. 5, subtitled Retribution, may be the most incomprehensible entry of all.

Milla Jovovich, as the indestructible warrior woman Alice, is likely the best explanation for why the franchise remains watchable. Clad in form-fitting black and wielding an assortment of exotic armory, the Ukrainian-born beauty is an all-American cultural symbol -- sex and death in a tantalizing two-for-one package. If she happens to be vanquishing enemies in the same painstakingly choreographed way she's done in the last four movies, well, you still can't take your eyes off her.

That helps us navigate through Retribution's wonky plot, which begins where the fourth one left off Alice on an retooled aircraft carrier battling dozens of military minions of the Umbrella Corporation -- and then suddenly veering into a weird new scene: Alice awakens in a nice suburban home, taking care of her deaf daughter (Aryana Engineer) and packing off her hunky hubby (Oded Fehr), whom we knew in past movies as Carlos, one of Alice's fellow warriors. Suddenly, the film's trademark diseased zombies attack. Suffice to say: It's a cheat. When the smoke clears, Alice is yet again fighting for survival, navigating through a multitude of cityscapes reproducing Moscow, Tokyo and New York.

Adding to the confusion, Alice keeps encountering people who were killed in previous movies, including the hardbitten soldier Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) from the first film, once an ally and now a fierce enemy.

Why? For no other reason than Rodriguez smiling fiendishly is as intrinsically cinematic as Jovovich swinging a chain at a zombie attacker.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson typically lifts tropes from other better movies, which is the reason for the opening suburban set-up, a borrow of the opening scenes of Zack Snyder's 2004 remake Dawn of the Dead, in which a nice quiet suburban abode is suddenly invaded by vicious zombies. It worked once. Why shouldn't it work again?

At least Anderson borrows from quality. It almost redeems his films, which are well-produced and fun to watch, even if there's not an original moment in any of them.

The Blu-ray is heavy with extras, including docs on the creatures, production design, stunts and Jovovich. HH

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2012 ??65535

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