Animal Kingdom

In the opening scene of David Michod’s Australian crime saga, Animal Kingdom, a Melbourne teenager named J (James Frecheville) sits stone-faced and clueless after his mom dies from a drug overdose.  After the police drag the body away, he calls up the only person he knows will come through for him, his previously estranged but all too willing to reconnect grandmother, Janine (Jacki Weaver in a performance that deserves awards’ buzz).  Janine just happens to be the proud and perky lioness ruling a family of small time bank-robbers and drug-dealers.  The eldest, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn) is a loose cannon on the cops’ most-wanted list.  J quickly gets caught up in the middle of a mess after the cops take out a family friend resulting in a gangland retaliation, and a detective (Guy Pearce) becomes determined to use the impressionable J against his uncles.

Michod weaves an intermittently compelling tale that is part coming-of-age story and part mob flick spun Down Under.  His framing and mise-en-scene is technically sound but sometimes too self-conscious, and the slow-paced editing makes the film seem longer than it is and hinders some of the drama.  Continue reading

Have You Been Eaten by a Piranha?

Sea…Sex…and Blood…in 3D.  And you thought this would be a good idea to bring your seven-year old son to see this?  Yup, that’s right, America…some genius brought his kid in to see Piranha 3D on a Tuesday night.  And get this…he didn’t walk out of the theater until the Eli Roth lead wet t-shirt contest about half way through after we already witnessed some gnarly fish attacks and two babes do an underwater ballet in the buff.  At least the father finally realized his idiocy…but, man…that seven year-old must have had the time of his life up until that moment.  I imagine the father was recently divorced, and he had the kid for the last week of summer and thought, hey, I saw that Piranha movie when I was a kid, and I loved it and turned out just fine!  What a great opportunity to bond with junior!  Ah, the best laid plans of clueless parents…

But, I digress.  Sacre bleu, Alexandre Aja…what in Elizabeth Shue have you gotten into here?  Continue reading

Of Al Capone, The Thief Maker and Death by Baklava

On a whim this Saturday I decided to take a friend on a Thief Maker Reality Tour by visiting the famous Philadelphia neighborhood where the majority of my book was set, touring Eastern State Penitentiary and dining at one of my all-time favorite restaurants.  

It had been a well over a year (maybe even two) since I had been back to the Art Museum District centered around Fairmount Avenue (and I’ll be there again next weekend for the Late Renoir Exhibit at the PMA).  Though I’ve only ever been a visitor to the area, it was like returning home as it had lived in my imagination for so long and served as the inspiration for the primary setting of my “first” novel, which now seems like such a distant memory.  It was great stomping around my old haunts, and for the first time, I played the part of a true tourist by paying to enter the famed Eastern State Penitentiary – former home of Al Capone. Continue reading

Get Low and Out of Tune

Aaron Schneider’s feature film debut, Get Low, opens compellingly enough with an image of a house ablaze in the night accompanied by some brooding music that makes you feel like you’re in for something really good because somebody did something really bad.  It’s seems the tone has been set. 

Robert Duvall, grizzled as all heck, commands the next few scenes as we get glimpses of his hermit life.  But then Bill Murray, deadpan to the point of inertia, shows up as a funeral director lamenting that nobody seems to be dying in this Depression-Era Tennessee town, and everything goes out of tune.  Continue reading

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Gemma Arterton is Alice Creed.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed opens with a point-by-point look at two men (a menacing Eddie Marsan and a bewildered Martin Compston) preparing for the kidnapping of our titular anti-heroine (former Bond girl Gemma Arterton).  Writer/director J. Blakeson builds the tension confidently with well shot, well scored scenes that lull the audience into believing these men are so meticulous and organized, whatever it is they are about to do, they’re going to pull it off brilliantly.  They just have to.  Oh, but when you mix in human emotions, things couldn’t go more astray.

We’ve seen these kidnap flicks before, and we know something always goes horribly awry.  Blakeson knows he’s going to have to keep us on our toes, and he does so with some gravely intimate moments while falling back on old-fashioned melodrama.  Continue reading

Three for the Road

The dog days of summer bring endless balmy nights and I find my thoughts wandering down the road.

And no one rules the road like The Boss.

At my home in South Jersey I’m just a stone’s throw from the White Horse Pike and I find myself itching to hit the highway to chase storms and dreams along my own personal Thunder Road heading to Atlantic City. Continue reading

Rooted in the Earth

Congratulations to fellow blogger and film buff, Dianne Glave, whose non-fiction book, Rooted in the Earth was released August 1st by Lawrence Hill Books!

I first came across Dianne Glave’s writing through her blog when I read her amazingly perceptive review of the sci-fi/horror melodrama, Splice, a movie that for film bloggers had to be the most talked-about box-office bomb of the summer.  Her unique environmentalist spin on the film drew me in, and I quickly found that her love of film was matched by her passion for the environment.  Glave’s film reviews are unlike anything out there on the web, and she serves up filet-mignon style observations on typically fast-food entertainment.  Until I read Glave’s reviews, I never thought I would think so deeply about films like Iron Man 2where she argues the film promotes a destructive environmental policy and mirrors our BP spill crisis in the Gulf.  Or take for instance Glave’s spin on Predators where she discusses Survival of the Fittest and a new fractured vision of Paradise.  She also features posts on music, photography, books and current events tied to environmentalism.

While her blog should be of special interest to cineasts and bloggers looking for reviews and opinions with greater substance, her new book should be of interest for those involved with or who are students of African-American Studies and/or The Environmentalist Movement. Continue reading