Killer Joe (2011; USA; Colour; 102m) ***½ d. William Friedkin; w. Tracy Letts; ph. Caleb Deschanel; m. Tyler Bates. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Charley Vance, Gregory Bachaud, Marc Macaulay. When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance. Brilliantly acted and darkly comic crime thriller suffers from the occasional misstep – notably in its overly sensational climax. The plot is simple, but cleverly executed and the dialogue is naturalistic. McConaughey is the standout as the detective/hitman with psychotic tendencies beneath a cool and charming facade. Church is also very good as the dim-witted husband of opportunistic Gershon. A tough watch for some, again notably in the final act, this demonstrates Friedkin hasn’t lost his appetite to challenge his audience. Letts adapted her own play. 
Sideways (2004; USA; DeLuxe; 126m) ***** d. Alexander Payne; w. Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor; ph. Phedon Papamichael; m. Rolfe Kent. Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M.C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner, Shaun Duke, Patrick Gallagher, Shake Tukhmanyan, Shaun Duke, Robert Covarrubias, Stephanie Faracy. Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. Brilliantly written and highly entertaining exploration of male mid-life crisis featuring note-perfect performances from Giamatti, Church, Madsen and Oh. Moments of poignancy mix with laugh-out-loud comedy to produce a deft blend that matches the wines it celebrates. Won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett. A Japanese remake was released in 2009.