Sunday, September 5, 2010


Animal Kingdom
Hmmm.... I think I'm still mulling over this one. Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime thriller and it was one of the huge success stories to come out of the early festival circuit, along with Winter's Bone. Jacki Weaver, in particular, earned accolades as the matriarch of the criminal family. Moreover, one of my close friends, whose taste in films I trust absolutely, got a sneak peak in New York and called to rave about it a couple of weeks ago.

I just feel like I'm missing something. It's good. It's really good, but...

I don't know. Perhaps I went in with my expectations too high?

The film centers on a teenager who, after his mother's overdose, moves in with his criminal relatives. Their family is being pursued by the cops and are at the edge of falling apart. The film examines the escalating tensions between the cops and the family members and Josh, the teenager's, increasing involvement with the family business.

I think part of why I had a hard time connecting to the film is that I don't think I've ever seen a movie where the protagonist was such a blank slate. For the first two thirds of the film, Josh is mostly silent and completely, utterly passive. It's a weird thing to watch.

The direction is excellent, however. As the situations become more and more dire, the smallest interactions become fraught with tension. I was on the edge of my seat for a car pulling out of a driveway. It reminded me a lot of The Hurt Locker, where small scenes were relentlessly tense. The supporting cast is fabulous, as well, particularly Guy Pearce as a detective pursuing the family.

4/5 stars

The Runaways
Man was this disappointing. The story of one of the first (the first?) all-female rock band, The Runaways, whose members included Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The film is based on the lead singer Cherie Curie's memoir, and the film focuses largely on Joan and Cherie.

The movie is filmed in a largely impressionistic way. This seems to be used to avoid the obvious 'small band makes it big, is pulled apart by drugs and success' cliches. However, it generally leaves the audience confused and the entire story is a mess. I thought at first that it might be a mess because the story was altered so as not to be too harsh on it's protagonists (Joan Jett was an executive producer). But the girls are shown taking drugs and having sex, so I'm not sure that making the events clearer would change the way they come off.

The largest problem with this style of filming is that really don't have any clue what the girls' motivations were. I guess Cherie Curie wanted to be Bowie? Joan wanted to play guitar? But I have no idea how they got into drugs. Why Cherie wanted to sleep with her tour manager. How bisexual Joan was and why Cherie wanted to sleep with her. How they dealt with the criticism that must have come from being girls in a male-dominated industry.

For example, the whole section of the girls achieving fame and success is shown through a few newspaper headlines cut in with some clip art in what looks to be a high school video project. There's nothing with the girls - their reactions, how touring changed, what the press had to say - nada. Likewise, as they start off, Joan seemed to be onto the fact that their manager was ripping them off, but then that storyline disappears completely. A lot of the film feels lazy like that and you never really get a sense as to what the girls are thinking at any given time.

It's too bad, because Kirsten Stewart and Dakota Fanning throw themselves into their roles and certainly seem up for anything. I wish they had been given more to work with. I also wish Alia Shawkat had been given a single line of dialogue. Talk about a waste of talent.

Overall, you get the impression of girls getting introduced to drugs and sex and liking both. It's not particularly empowering or interesting. Or rock and roll.

The one highlight is the tremendous Michael Shannon who plays Kim Fowley, their manager. He's fabulous.

2/5 stars, because - hey - at least you get some Joan Jett songs in there. And I love her:

The Circus
Now here is a completely fabulous film. Charlie Chaplin, as the Little Tramp, manages to join the circus. I'm not a huge Charlie Chaplin fan - I was raised more on Buster Keaton - but this is probably the best Charlie Chaplin film I've seen so far. Granted, the fact that it is set in a circus probably biases me, but it sets up a lot of great physical humor. The whole thing is very clever and moves along a good clip. Well worth seeing.

5/5 stars

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim is slick and stylish, and endlessly winking. (It made me think a lot about the article on movies becoming self-referential and meta I posted a few days ago). While I'm not a gamer, I could tell a good deal of love was lavished on all the game details. It's clever, funny, and all of the supporting cast is good (Kieran Culkin stands out particularly as Scott's snarky roommate and I love Alison Pill as the drummer in Scott's band). We never get a lot of insight into the characters (for example why Ramona dated some of her exes, or what, exactly, Scott falls in love with after 2 dates with her), but it's fun enough that I didn't particularly care. I wouldn't say this a great Gen Y romance - as some have - there simply isn't enough there to the characters to care about them. But it's very easily a great Gen Y comedy.

Perhaps my only problem with the film was Michael Cera as Scott. He's fine, and it is better work a slightly wider range than he has been showing in most of his post-Arrested Development roles. However, I can't really get on board with him as a lead in a romance. There really isn't anything going on there. There are other geeky casting options who are more charismatic. Given someone more compelling/attractive, maybe I would have cared more about him and Ramona making it.

3/5 stars

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