The Watch has received its share of scathing reviews and, if truth be told—they’re well-deserved. This so-called comedy about a neighborhood watch that encounters aliens (I hope I’m spoiling everything) fails on practically every conceivable level.
Start with its faux-Election opening voice-over—the major difference is that while Matthew Broderick’s sincere narration in Election pulled you in, Ben Stiller’s musings only convey an insincerity bordering on smugness. One can continue with the slumming cast: Jonah Hill (underplaying to little effect), Vince Vaughn (wildly overplaying), and Richard Ayoade (giving the closest equivalent to a performance) as the watch members; Will Forte as a policeman you hope (vainly) that the aliens will devour; Billy Crudup as a suspicious neighbor; Rosemarie DeWitt as Stiller’s neglected wife (what is he thinking!). Let’s not forget the perfunctory “climax” where our intrepid heroes (and wife) manage to vanquish the alien marauders on the battlefield that is-Costco. The major culprit here, of course, is a script by among others Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that is generally devoid of humor, and direction by Akiva Scaffer that allows the actors to indulge in their worst mannerisms. I will say, in fairness, that there is one amusing bit– halfway through–that plays on the heroes’ paranoia about who might be an alien. And that’s it for funny ideas.
Once upon a time, there was this Detroit-born singer-musician named Sixto Rodriguez who released two albums in the early 1970s that went nowhere in the United States. The fact that his live performances were uncomfortable (he would turn his back to the audience) didn’t help, and so Rodriguez fell into obscurity—with tales of his violent onstage death in his wake. Then a funny thing happened—his music was embraced by South Africans and became a symbol for anti-apartheid activists, leading to some (belated) curiosity from music lovers and music historians alike—what really happened to Rodriguez? Some of the answers can be found in Malik Bendjelloul’s extremely engaging documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which uses interviews, visuals, and above-all Rodriguez’ music to tell the story of how this search for the truth leads to some interesting and surprising discoveries. I shall not play spoiler here—in fact, it’s better if you don’t know too much going in. This way you’ll appreciate-as I did– the passion of the filmmakers and researchers for their subject, the love and dedication that Rodriguez inspired, and the artistry and power of Rodriguez’ music. Searching for Sugar Man is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
William Friedkin’s Texas-set dark comedy/neo-noir Killer Joe (script by Tracy Letts) about a desperate ne’er do well (Emile Hirsch) who involves his willing family (weak-willed dad Thomas Haden-Church, slutty step-mom Gina Gershon, and sister Juno Temple) in a scheme to kill his mother for the insurance money, has one huge asset: Matthew McConaughey. His performance as a policeman who moonlights as a hired killer is a towering creation: steely, soft-spoken, seductive, with an undercurrent of threat and terror behind his every syllable. One believes Killer Joe when he says he’ll get the job done-on his terms-and that he’ll take no prisoners. The film is filled with set-pieces that underscore Joe’s menace, and are strikingly well-played by McConaghey, Temple (as a possibly willing object of Joe’s desire), Gershon, and Church. Unfortunately Hirsch is a little too one-note and unsympathetic as the troubled catalyst, but the bigger problem lies in the “let’s get a NC-17” climax. It’s here that the film goes off the rails in its attempt to bring home the wrath of Killer Joe—with the makers seemingly unaware that Joe’s terror is much more pronounced when he offers his quiet, incisive observations, veiled threats or penetrating stares on the unwilling, uncomfortable recipients.