Runtime 104 minutes
OK for children.

From l, Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano in “Ruby Sparks.”

This is a romcom that is deeper than one generally expects for the genre. Written by star Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby, it’s based on the Greek myth of Pygmalion about a man who controls a woman. Here it’s Paul Dano, a blocked writer, who starts writing about a woman when — viola! — she suddenly appears in his life in the flesh. He finds he can control her by writing about her.Kazan not only gives a charming, emotional performance, her script shows she has dazzling talent as a writer. She actually wrote it with Dano, her boyfriend in real life, in mind as the star.

The cast is A-1, highlighted by a bravura performance by Antonio Banderas, who, according to co-director Jonathan Dayton (with Valerie Faris), was cast as the boyfriend of Dano’s mother, Annette Bening, because they thought Antonio would “drive Paul crazy.” Banderas hasn’t been seen much lately, and that’s a shame. He’s a fine actor and this performance is Oscar®-quality.

There is, unfortunately, a “however.” Paul is painted as an antisocial guy who is without hope when dealing with women. The way Dano acts throughout most of the movie he is basically inept with women. Then, near the end of the movie, he is at a party and he meets his former girlfriend, who is drop dead gorgeous. She also apparently loved him and was devastated when Paul dumped her. This is so incongruous with Paul’s character as developed throughout the movie, that it throws the entire concept of the movie off kilter.

Even with this inconsistency, though, this is a sweet movie that contains many laugh-out-loud lines, highlighted by wonderful performances by Kazan and Dano, artfully directed byDaytonand Faris.

Killer Joe

Runtime 103 minutes
Not for children, rated NC-17.

From l, Emile Hirsch and Mat-thew McConaughey in “Killer Joe.”

For director William Friedkin, a guy who prides himself on filming graphic violence, this contains one of the phoniest fights since Republic stopped making Roy Rogers movies (which was 1951 with Roy’s second-to-last western feature film, Pals of the Golden West; he made one more, Son of Paleface in 1952, but that was with Bob Hope and Paramount). Emile Hirsch gets beat up by two bikers in the middle of the film and it is so poorly done you can actually see space between the attackers’ fists and Emile’s body. It’s so bad it’s laughable.

Unfortunately, Friedkin makes up for this with the final 20 minutes of graphic and emotional violence that ruined the movie for me. Before that, it’s a clever story, based on the 1994 play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay). Hirsch and his father,ThomasHadenChurch, hireDallasdetective, Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), who moonlights as a contract killer, to kill Hirsch’s mother and Church’s first wife to get insurance money.

The acting is very good, highlighted byJunoTemple, who plays Hirsch’s sister and whom McConaughey demands as collateral for the job since neither Hirsch nor Church has the money to pay him up front. Juno is the pivotal key to the movie, allowing her family to prostitute her out. McConaughey views her as his potential salvation. The movie wouldn’t work without her effective performance as a kind of Baby Doll, which required lots of nudity, some of it full frontal. Gina Gershon gives a terrific performance as Church’s present wife. Church provides needed comic relief as the simple-minded husband who just goes along with his goofy son and wife.

McConaughey is continuing his effort to be recognized as more than a pretty smile, taking more challenging roles than the frivolous leading man in romantic comedies, and this one shows his breadth of talent because he’s a charming psychotic killer until the last 20 minutes.

It’s an intricate tale that would have gotten a much higher rating from me but for the disgusting, over-the-top graphic violence and really silly but graphic simulated sex scene in the finale.

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