Sunday, August 22, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Writer/director David Michod's first feature film is a nasty piece of business imported from Australia. Guy Pearce is the only "name" actor American audiences will recognize but you will not soon forget the rest of this cast.

This contemporary crime drama centers around the Cody family. The film's narrator is 17 year old grandson, J Cody, who comes to live with his grandmother and three uncles after a shocking opening scene. J is played by James Frecheville who, in his film debut, leaves quite an impact. Jackie Weaver plays grandmother Janine, the matriarch of this criminal brood. She resides over her family like the lioness analogy of the film's title. Her scenes late in the film are especially chilling.

All of Janine's sons are also well cast and make a very scary lot, especially "Pope", the oldest, played by Ben Mendlesohn. Mr. Pearce plays the lead detective trying to bring the whole family to justice. He knows J is minimally involved in their dirty deeds and tries to turn him against his family.

Mr. Michod shows confidence behind the camera and builds his suspense well. Violence is hovering on the edge of almost every scene but credit Mr. Michod for creating the mood and keeping the actual violence to a minimum (graphic though when it does happen). I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Luke Wilson shines in an otherwise annoying film about the introduction of "porn for pay" on the Internet.
The story is "Inspired by real events" but inevitably creative license runs amok. The film is all over the place, at once comedic and then deadly serious. It's filled with stock characters like Russian mobsters, middle eastern terrorists, shady lawyers, porn stars and kindly FBI agents. At the center of it all is "Jack Harris", the problem solving business man with the brains to sort out everyone's problems and get rich quick.

Mr. Wilson does a great job as the family man, Harris, who succumbs to the lure of big money, sex and power only to find it's what what he really wants. Hmmm, haven't we seen this plot about a gazillion movies? While his acting is terrific, the story is annoying and grating on the nerves. The action constantly moves back in forth in time confusing the viewer and the constant narration by Mr. Wilson really gets under your skin (no pun intended). A good script wouldn't need the voiceover to explain everything happening on screen.

The film also stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht as the two drug fueled friends that start the Internet porn business and James Caan as the aforementioned shady lawyer. While all the acting is good, it's not enough to sustain your interest in all these unlikeable characters.

At it's root, this little known history lesson is a cautionary warning of excess. Let this review be a cautionary warning as well.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

What easily might be misinterpreted as another "torture porn" film in the vein of "Saw" or "Hostel" is actually nothing like that. Instead, the British import, "Alice Creed" takes a well prepared kidnapping and turns it south but not before many twists and turns in the road. There are scenes of violence as well as sexual situations and language but it is far from over the top and used sparingly without being exploitive.

This film reminded me a bit of an earlier British crime thriller, "Shallow Grave". All may not be what it seems and to say anything more would be unforgivable. The plot twists keep coming and I enjoyed every turn. The three character cast does a good job of keeping you guessing right up to the end.

Gemma Arterton stars as "Alice", the kidnap victim and while she plays most of the film tied to a bed with a gag in her mouth, she still manages to convey a wide range throughout the story. The only other characters are the kidnappers, Vic and Danny, played respectively by Eddie Marsan, (so good in "Happy Go Lucky") and Martin Compston ("The Damn United" and "Red Road").

There is some clever camera work particularly in the opening sequence and a great scene involving a bullet casing (which makes an interesting reappearance later on). Writer/Director J Blakeson takes a familiar plot and makes it fresh with the help of his talented cast.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Get Low

Not a lot happens in this backwoods tale of an old hermit who decides to throw himself a funeral before he dies but it's still worth the price of admission. The reason is simple...Robert Duvall plays the hermit, Felix Bush and Bill Murray plays the funeral director, Frank Quinn. It's a pleasure to watch these actors work.

Mr. Duvall is at the top of his game as the old man who decides it's time to "get low", a southern term for time to die, but not before he can confess a 40 year old secret. His "Felix Bush" comes off as a crazy old coot but he's a man with a twinkle in his eye, who knows exactly what he's doing at all times. His monologue at his funeral party is a class in acting all by itself. Mr. Murray's "Frank Quinn" is a perfect foil to Mr. Duvall. Quinn is a desperate man as business has been slow and he really needs this last shot to stay afloat. He's oily and conniving but Mr. Murray holds back what could have been over the top and balances his personal needs with his belief in his client.

Co-starring is Sissy Spacek, who is so comfortable in her scenes with Mr. Duvall, you'd think they've worked together for years (when in fact, it's their first film together). In addition to Ms. Spacek, Lucas Black plays Mr. Quinn's assistant, Buddy and the great Bill Cobbs plays Rev. Charlie Jackson, the only other person who knows Bush's secret. Everyone in this film is perfectly cast and the acting is just wonderful to watch.

The script is a simple one but filled with some great dialog and on-liners. The cinematography is breathtaking with beautiful shots in the Georgia woods. Like Mr. Duvall's character, the film itself is quiet and reserved but it sneaks up on you and will have a lasting impression.

Monday, August 02, 2010


It's been hard to escape the advertising for this film. Everywhere you go, you see these huge billboards asking the question, "Who Is Salt?". Salt is actually Evelyn Salt, play in full action hero mode by Angelina Jolie. Ms. Salt is a CIA agent who is identified as a Russian "sleeper" agent and suddenly everyone is after her, including her best friend and fellow agent, played by Liv Schreiber.

While the action comes fast and often, much of it is just hard to believe, especially Ms. Jolie's hand to hand fights with various agents and police. One punch or kick brings down every assailant. That criticism aside, it's still fun to watch her outsmart everyone and the script has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing which side she's really on.

This is a crowd-pleasing summer "popcorn" flick. You can check your brain at the door and just have fun with it. The ending leaves "Salt" wide open for a sequel although they do say, too much salt is not good for you.