Animal Kingdom Review

Animal Kingdom is a 2010 crime movie debut of David Michod which has won the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie was inspired by the 1988 Walsh Street police shootings. Jackie Weaving has been nominated for an AFI (Australian Film Institute) award for her performance and is tipped for an Oscar for supporting actor!


Plot

We meet seventeen year old Joshua 'J' Cody (played by first time actor James Frecheville), sitting on the couch, watching television next to the body of his mother who has just died from a heroin overdose. Once the paramedics arrive and take her away, Josh reluctantly contacts his grandmother Janine 'Smurf' Cody (played chillingly by Jacki Weaver). Soon Josh is taken into Janine’s Melbourne-based criminal family that consists of her sons: armed robber Andrew "Pope"(played by Ben Mendelsohn), drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (played by Luke Ford). Soon Andrew and his bank robbing partner Barry 'Baz' Brown (played by Joel Edgerton) are grooming young Josh as an apprentice, all the while with Melbourne's Armed Robbery Squad and Homicide Detective Senior Segeant Nathan Leckie (played by Guy Pearce) gunning for Pope and trying its hardest for Josh not to get caught up in this Animal Kingdom..............................


Review

Unlike The Town and other crime-genre films, we are not made privy to any of the bank robberies performed by the lead criminals. The film instead specifically targets its focus on the inner-workings and social hierarchy of a criminal family which is governed by its matriarch.


The acting is fantastic, especially Ben Mendelsohn, who was so wonderful in last year’s Beautiful Kate. The career criminals seem at odds with progressing society, being comfortable doing what they know best: their trade of robbing banks. Their ashen, still faces chillingly hide their emotions like expert poker players. We never feel at ease around them as we have no idea what they are capable of at any given moment. For this reason Guy Pearce’s character is refreshing when he is on screen, as he shines a light of honour and goodness. However he is quickly missed when he is gone!


The film has an air of unease and dread throughout as we empathise with Josh, who is caught right in the middle of his criminal family who are all that he has left, and the police who are tugging at his conscious, appearing to care for his well-being, but maybe only because it suits their immediate needs. Like The Town, we see that the criminal hierarchy is balanced in a way that any disruption caused to it will result in severe consequences as the order is re-established for the kingdom to continue its survival.


Rating

This is a fantastic film that does exactly what it sets out to do. The actors give a tour-de-force in their performances, with special note to Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver, as we have never seen them as these types of characters before. James Frecheville has enjoyed a solid introduction to Australian film, and I hope that his future goes from strength-to-strength from here.


Ultimately, I did not enjoy the film as I found it un-enjoyable. It keeps you anxiously on the edge of your seat, and the tense ambiance is nauseating. Of course this is subjective bias as to what an individual took from a movie, so I highly recommend seeing it, although it is not one to check out on date night.


A very unsettling but strong 3.5 criminal brothers out of 5.

 

Check out what Margaret and David have to say, have a look at an interview, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010

 


The Town Review

The Town is a crime heist drama, co-written and directed by and starring Ben Affleck. It is adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. Affleck’s previous directorial debut was another crime movie set in Boston, Massachusetts, Gone Baby Gone.

Plot

Career criminals Doug MacRay ( played by Ben Affleck), James "Jem" Coughlin (played by the Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner), Albert and Desmond "Dez" Elden are life-long friends from CharlestownBoston Massachusetts. We are introduced to the foursome, seeing them do what they do best as they successfully rob a Cambridge bank. Breaking tradition, Jem decides to kidnap the bank manager (played by Rebecca Hall), which leads to a possible loose end. With the FBI hot on their tail, led by the relentless Agent Adamn Frawley (played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), Doug soon plans to lead a life with the kidnap victim that he is falling for, away from his friends and the town that is so much a part of him, and wackiness ensues.

Review

Ben Affleck seems to be in a career revival. Ben received an Oscar for his writing on Good Will Hunting, and gained rave reviews for his first directorial effort Gone Baby Gone.  Now it seems he is lending his talents at creating a meaty role for himself to really show his acting chops. It is as if Ben has reassessed his career after a few years of box-office bombs ( although he was the bomb in Phantoms) and, like Heath Ledger before him, has deconstructed his acting image back down to its bare bones, starting from scratch from the place it all began, this time under his complete control.

Once again in Boston, Ben builds up his fan base, appealing to the fans that got him started in the first place. Like J-Lo trying to convince us that she is just Jenny-From The Block, Affleck is showing that he is a part of the town that did so much for him. Like Good Will Hunting and  Gone Baby Gone, Ben demonstrates that he understands the culture, history and the relationships bred out of Massachusetts, and that he is proud of them.

Critics are unfairly comparing the Town to Michael Mann’s crime caper Heat, when in fact, the plot elements and characters of both movies are staples of the Crime heist gangster film which has helped form Michael’s career thus far..

During the years between the 1920’s – 1934, movie content was restricted by local laws, negotiations between the Studio Relations Committee and the major studios, and obviously popular opinion. Gangsters in movies during this period like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and Scarface were presented in a much more heroic way. Morally corrupt characters often profited from their deeds, in some cases without any consequence to their actions and drug use was a topic of several films.

In the wake of increasing crime in Hollywood, the American Catholics launched a campaign against what they deemed the immorality of American cinema, which led to The Motion Picture Production Code: a set of industry censorship guidelines that governed the production of US pictures from 1930 to 1968.

The code stipulated that crimes against law shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation. This gave way to movies that demonstrated that ‘Crime Does not Pay’.

The Town goes a long way to establish sympathy for the lead criminal, explaining where he came from and his ties to his past and therefore current geography. He was born into a criminal family and is expected to carry on the mantle left behind by his jailbird father. We understand the repercussions if he chooses to leave, but share his enthusiasm at a chance to leave it all behind.

Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm are perfectly cast in their roles. Both are similar types: tall, good looking, well mannered and well spoken. Like the perfect comic book rivals (both have had a brief flirt with being casted as Superman), they share many similarities but find themselves on opposite sides of the law, each other’s fate intertwined with the other’s. Like Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Public Enemies and Al Pacino, Robert De Niro in Heat however, the law enforcer receives little pity or empathy from the audience, being played as one-dimensional and dogged . This is perhaps due to such a character being a staple of the genre, the inability of the actors playing the law enforcer characters or maybe its from an inbuilt stance of anti-authoritarianism that resides in us all, and the movie is trying to tap into.

Like Robin Hood, stealing back the villagers’ taxes from a corrupt kingdom, Ben and his merry men knock off banks, telling its employers not to worry as they are insured against it. The Boston setting uses its Irish roots to bolster the underdog that we ultimately cheer for, even against the almost unbearable weight of fatalistic doom that follows the movie throughout as we all know that this cannot end well.

Rating

The Town is a very enjoyable, entertaining experience. The genre is well trodden but this movie hits its beats. The action is intense and surprisingly realistic, set around a story that holds all of its characters in a delicate house of cards. The ending does seem overlong, going too far to completely wrap up the story and its various characters, including the neighbourhood itself. That being said, The Town is another feather in Ben’s renaissance hat, and I look forward to what he does next: 4 banks out of 5

See what Rotten Tomatoes have to say, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010

 


Podcast - 5 November 2010 - Lourdes, I killed my mother, The Wilhelm Scream, Fair Game, On Childhood and Danger: Diabolik

Join Luke McWilliams, Liam Jennings, Steven Robert and Felix Barbalet as they review:

  • Lourdes
  • I Killed My Mother
  • Fair Game
  • On Childhood
  • Danger: Diabolik

Plus a new segment - "Pulp Flicktion" where Liam explains "The Wilhelm Scream"

Withnail and I review

Starring Paul Mccann as Marwood and Richard E Grant as the unforgettable Withnail. The name Withnail comes from a friend Bruce Robinson had as a teenager. Robinson was never good at spelling and contently wrote the name withnall as withnail.

 This film was written and directed by a then unknown Bruce Robinson, and tells a story of two struggling actors in the mid 1970’s. They devise a plan to get out of the city for peace of mind and to breathe the country air. Persuading his perverted Uncle Monty(played by Harry Potters step father Richard Griffiths) to borrow his cabin for the weekend, Withnail and  Marwood have a dream of drinking their sorrows away.  This all comes to a crashing halt as they realise that the country isn’t the beautiful scenic retreat they have planned. With strange locals and no food or warmth, before long they are both scared to death whilst trying to avoid the sexual advances of Monty.

 

This film was the launching pad for actors Richard E Grant and Paul Mccann, both having only done theatre work prior to being cast in the film. They are now both seen as royalty within the British film industry and have gone onto starring in countless films and television shows with both Richard and Paul having even starred as Doctor Who, Paul being the 8th doctor and Richard being the 9th.

The score is a strong point as well, being released in 1987, this film has an authentic 70’s soundtrack including the likes of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison.

 

A funny thing to note is that it was this film that pushed Jimi Hendrix’s estate to finally take control over his songs, due to the fact that they were sick of his music being associated with drug and alcohol culture.

Throughout the production of the film, there were more obstacles than they could ever imagine and it’s a marvel that the film was finished at all.

 

Richard E Grants daughter for example, who was born prematurely, died half way though filming and cast and crew said that the intensity of his performance rocketed through the roof.

 

The original test screening was an absolute disaster as well, Bruce sat in the back of the theatre in shock as nobody in the entire audience laughed throughout the entire movie, it was only after the film that he realised that they were all German tourists who had been rounded up from a hotel next door.

 

Withnail & I has a legacy behind it, yes there is a drinking game associated with this film. But I tell you this much, Don’t try to go shot for shot with Withnail, you will fail, you will fail so hard that you won’t be able to stand up for a few days.  

Withnail and I is one of the smartest and funniest films you will ever see.

 

5/5 Wellington boots (Liam)

Cult Movie Review - Suspirira

Cult Movie Review

Suspiria  is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, and co-written by Argento and actress Daria Nicolodi who reportedly claims the plot was inspired by an experience of her grandmother's.

Plot

We follow an American ballet student, Suzy Bannion ( played by Jessica Harper), who is attending a dance academy in Freiburg, Germany. Upon her arrival, Suzy is introduced to Madame Blanc ( played by Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli ). As Suzy settles into her new surroundings, she becomes aware of many strange goings on in relation to the staff, narcolepsy and murder murder murder!

Review

During my uni days in Adelaide, I had some artistic pursuits in relation to graphic design and of course film-making. Along with those interests and passions comes with it a certain beatnik, anti-authoritarian lifestyle and, of course, fellow beatniks. My roommate at the time and I would lay around the apartment talking endlessly about what was wrong with film today and how we would make the best film ever by scouring lost classics and coming up with the best script since Citizen Kane. Together we would shop at 24 hour supermarkets, usually at 1 in the morning, wake for lunch the next day to have yum-cha, endless amounts of coffee and talk talk talk about film.

 

One such particular time I awoke at 1.30 in the morning with a craving for salt and pepper squid and white wine. Calling my trusted side-kick into line, we ventured down Gouger Street to my favourite Chinese restaurant East Taste Cafe, where the crap house white wine served as the perfect catalyst against their amazing salt-and-pepper squid. Over our hard-earned supper, we again started discussing the ways in which to come up with a fantastic horror film never before pulled together. We had had the self-referential slashers of the Scream trilogy, which sparked a new wave of MTV friendly teen movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and the Urban Legend series, complete with American teenaged television actors and digital blood. What we needed, we thought, scratching our facial hair, is a slasher done with today’s technology but with yesteryear’s gumption for scares, horror and blood!

 

We got up from our restaurant table with renewed enthusiasm, jumped into our Batmobile and went straight home for our research! Once home, we went through a huge selection of weekly videos rented a day or two before and unleashed Suspiria, the cult Italian slasher classic! What better way to learn how to do the next masterpiece if not for studying the classics before us! Settling down for an early morning of study, we watched the movie with its soft focus, its chunky, orange looking blood, its difficult to follow plot and its ludicrously elaborate death scenes.

 

The movie’s strengths are in its cinematography, ambience, subtext and elaborate death scenes. We are witness early on to the first murder in the movie: a student, fleeing from the school in terror is shown to be stabbed several times, has a cord wrapped around her neck and is finally hung. As she crashes through a stained-glass ceiling, the smashed glass kills the victim’s friend who is standing beneath!

The movie uses menacing depictions of images of objects and architecture. The director uses rich colours, odd camera angles, shadows, and bright light to invoke a surreal, dreamlike ambience, a bit like a dark version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Reviewers have commented on the fascist subtext of the film, such as the limitation of personal freedoms.  In this sense, and with the films use of a possible coven of witches, the movie is akin to Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy which deals with the horrors of modern-day living (powerlessness, suspicion, isolation and madness), the most famous of these of course being Rosemary’s Baby.

 

Whereas Psycho was the first slasher film, taking its audiences into uncharted territory, Suspiria could be argued to be the first art-house slasher film, taking you into a nightmarish world. Where Psycho’s influence still emanates in modern day slasher’s in the need for us to know the slasher’s identity and motive, Suspiria’s  elaborate death scenes may be the reason for the genres evolution above the need for an actual slasher. For example the Final Destination series simply has death itself as the ultimate culprit, with screen time dedicated to increasingly elaborate death scenes over the period of 4 (and counting) movies.

 

Towards the end of watching Suspiria slowly but surely the mix of salt-and-pepper squid, shared carafe of crap house white wine, being up until 3.30 in the morning and watching an elaborate surrealist horror movie combined into the perfect storm and, looking at each other over growling upset stomaches, my house-mate and I went to our respective rooms to slumber, only to wake the next afternoon to again discuss our plans for the best horror movie ever made over yum-cha, whilst curiously not mentioning Suspiria again. Actually, ever again..................

 

Rating

All in all I give Suspiria 2.5 out of 5 salt-and-pepper squids. I am not a fan of unfounded surrealism a la David Lynch (an oxymoron to be sure). As the Watchowski brothers did with their Superman story (The Matrix) and Christopher Nolan with Inception, I like surrealist imagery and themes to be firmly grounded in reality. For my surrealist horror, I will go to the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series which, I suspect was probably influenced by Suspiria  in the first place.

Check out the film at IMDB, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams October 2010

La Dolce Vita Review

La Dolce Vita (Italian for “the sweet / good life) is a 1960 Italian movie by Federico Fellini. A fun fact is that the gossip-photographer named Papparazzo is responsible for the term paparazzi.

Plot

We follow journalist Marcello Rubini’s ( played by Marcello Mastroianni) life in Rome for 7 days, prowling its night-life in various nightclubs and bars. Marcello has numerous encounters with starlets (including the jaw-dropping Sylvia played by Anita Ekberg), models and with his upper class intellectual socialite friends as they all indulge in the excesses of their privileged ‘good’ lives. The group are however paradoxically aware of the shallowness of their materialistic natures. In his quest to find youth, true beauty and true love amongst the ‘new’ Rome, will Marcello lose his soul in the process?

Review

Perhaps it is my love of formula and usual appetite of Hollywood fanfare, but I was waiting to see where this movie was going, where it was taking me. The sum-of-its -parts are very enjoyable, though – like Baaria, despite its length, it does not let up – there are scenes of decadent, indulgent parties, magnificent fashion, very cool cafes accompanied with cigarette smoking, cool suits and people wearing shades, even at night. Once you decide to trust the film, relax, and sit back to watch it, it is a very rewarding experience.

 

The movie has been interpreted as being divided up into 7 parts, starting with a prologue and ending with an epilogue. I viewed it as being 7 consecutive days and nights, although towards the final act some time may have passed during segments.

 

The picture looks fantastic, with great camera angles and pans, sucking in the urban beauty of Rome at night contrasting against the gaudy high-class party scenes. Technically, the script is deceptively tight, with the bookends really adding a fantastic punch. There are a lot of self-referential points in regards to the correlation between intellect and happiness, the search for beauty and love amongst a town that could be viewed as a ‘jungle’ or hell. Each section has these themes, and they are mirrored throughout, almost as if this is a collection of short stories a la Paris Je Taime. Each chapter however adds to the overall narrative which becomes increasingly darker while spiralling to its relatively tragic climax.

 

Whilst Fellini’s usual surrealism is thankfully restrained here, there is a lot of symbolism throughout the film, commenting on the contrast between the ‘modern’ 60’s life being built on the slums of Rome, and its societies’ changing morality faced with a new decadent lifestyle. Also on play are the differing statuses of the sexes. Such themes are mirrored and visited frequently in the television series Mad Men: set in the era after the Second World War, where a whole society is expected to be grateful for the materialistic possessions that they have accrued at war’s end, but who face an existential crisis as a result.

Rating  - 4.5 starlets out of 5. A great morality tale with beautiful imagery.

Check out the film at IMDB, and check out the trailer.

Luke McWilliams October 2010

Baaria Review

Baaria   is an 2009 Sicilian- Italian autobiographical film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, screening throughout Australia with the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.

Plot

We are introduced to a young Peppino (played as an adult by Francesco Scianna ) and his friend Nino (played as an adult by Ficarra), in the small Sicilian town of Baarìa (Sicilian slang for Bagheria). Here, we are privy to the life, loves and struggles of the town throughout three generations: starting from the 1920s stretching all the way to the 1980s. We follow the community during the Fascist period, World War II and its political falling out; the clash of Socialism and Communism all against a backdrop of the lives of Barria’s occupants.

Review

The movie looks absolutely lush with its golden earthy hues within the towns architecture and beautiful Sicilian countryside landscape, and obviously has a great budget behind it. A lot of cinematic techniques are employed throughout: from epic looking camera sweeps to the use of CGI from grand architecture, natural landscapes down to very small objects.

The rustic town looks beautiful, however, as one review mentioned, perhaps a little too perfect, as if the film was made with tourism in mind; selling Sicily overseas like a product. This of course is quite unfair: the directors’ choice of presenting an idealic setting as a character within itself, reaches us in a way that we believe and understand that this place and its community is worth fighting for, similarly what Baz Luhraman did with Australia, which of course did have a tie in with Tourism Australia ( a far cry from Lara Bingle to be sure).

It is fascinating to watch the political changes stretching through such a long time in one location, and to also witness the effects such changes have on a relatively small scale, such as the communities’ lives. One needn’t have a grasp on the political ideals however to appreciate the ramifications felt throughout the community.

Like many ‘epics’ there is a lot happening: there are many characters and there are many sub-plots. It is confusing at times keeping track with all the characters, especially as they age and morph into different actors.

Contrary to its long running time, the film does go at a cracking pace. It is as if it is a Martin Scorsese film being edited by Chrisopher Nolan’s editor, Lee Smith. A lot of ground is covered very swiftly, with multiple story threads going on, but too tight editing keeps us a little confused as to what exactly is happening.

It was very amusing to have spotted Monica Belluci’s ‘guest starring role’, and have to wonder if it wasn’t for her past collaborations with the director, such as in Malena, if she would have agreed to such a small, but very impressionable part.

Rating

The viewing experience was marred as, whilst watching the movie, I had two ladies behind me speaking in Italian throughout. However, as it was a Sunday afternoon with a beautiful day outside, I obviously was the intruder in this particular movie viewing period. Anyway, the Italian language may have added to it.

Baaria is a solid piece of filmmaking and a very satisfying experience. 3.5 out of 5 buns

Check the movie out at IMDB, see what Margaret and David had to say, and watch the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams October 2010