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Stoker

Stoker film posterSynopsis

Starring Nicole Kidman as Mrs Stoker whose husband Richard has just died (played by Dermot Mulroney).  Her daughter is India (Mia Wasikowska).  Charlie (Matthew Goode) turns up.  He has sexual designs on the Stoker mother and daughter.  India flirts and Charlie teaches her to kill.  Charlie has a psychiatric history.  He kills his brother Richard.  Who else will he kill?

Review

Made by Park Chan Wook (who made Oldboy in 2003).  This is such a sensually loaded film it makes you feel you’re being stroked.  The images are lush in a sort of Elvira Madigan trance of an idyllic summer.  One scene goes from the combing of hair to wheat waving in the wind.  Blood sprays white flowers.  It’s like Terence Mallick’s visual style mixed with a Hitchcock plot (indeed it derives from Shadow of a Doubt).  Nicole Kidman looks poised to aim neurosis or worse at whoever is in her sights  Sexual jealousy from mother to daughter is highly charged.  Emotions swarm beneath chilly elegance and it later electrifies the atmosphere.  Charlie. is a smirking con man, we know he is dangerous but we’ve seen more convincing specimens of his type: like Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains.  Charlie is not given any memorable lines but he is a suave killer.  This film lacks any originality of plot so it compensates by its density of image.  India says arty things about the photographs catching us out in unusual angles.  She is not exactly a killer in the style of Hitchcock’s Rope, more a lethal primitive pretending to sophistication.  Her voice-over reminds us of the amoral naivety of Sissy Spacek in Badlands.  It does not have the mesmeric music of that film although Summer Wine is a pleasant record sound track.  She sleeps on a bed with several pairs of identical shoes in a circle round her.  She may be rich and beautiful but she is ultimately a mundane assassin.  This is the Southern US and of course stereotypically it has to be loaded with a potential for evil, so it wouldn’t work if it were set in Akron Ohio would it?

Nicole Kidman is left with little to do in this film.  We are left to wonder if she is entirely guiltless of her husband’s death, and who is in more danger from Charlie, daughter or mother, and since they’re both unlikeable from the start we wouldn’t mind seeing their comeuppence.  Like a snooze in a wheat field.

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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poster

Synopsis

Set in Melbourne in the 1980’s, it starts off with teenage Josh watching TV, his mother is dead next to him, dead from a heroin overdose.  He then gets involved with his relatives, a bunch of criminals who specialise in bank robberies.  Their house is under surveillance by police.  This criminal family, the Codys, are ruled over by matriarch  Jackie Weaver, a diminutive blonde.  Two of the Codys are shot by the police, one of them wanted to go straight and get into the stock market.  One member of the family is a lawyer and helps out legally, but of course does not help the police with their enquiries.  One of the Codys was shot in his car, the other does a runner in Ned Kelly country.  Ben Mendelsohn plays Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody who is a really vicious criminal.  He hotshots Josh’s girlfriend, thinking she might betray them to the police.  He goes to jail but Jackie Weaver gets him out.  He gets away with that murder after killing a couple of cops.  Josh meets up with policeman Guy Pearce who plays a humane cop called Leekie.  Josh is put under witness protection but Jackie Weaver’s family get away with the murders.  Using vigilante justice, Josh kills ‘Pope’ Cody.

Review

The critics have lined up to praise this unremarkable film.  They’ve strained at the ‘animal kingdom’ metaphor, but these criminals are an insult to animals, they are mundane thugs.  Pope Cody just looks bovine, so maybe that’s an apt epithet that might justify the title.  This is just another sordid little film that pays inexplicably close attention to these morally witless wastes of time.  It’s supposed to be a close and original look at criminals, but it looked to me more like a documentary about weirdly dysfunctional people set in  Neighbours houses.  These priceless louts spend all day snorting coke and undermining each other’s sanity.  The only faintly interesting Cody gets killed, aware of a different way of life.  Houses always look immaculate, nobody seems to attend to the ordinary details of life.

Josh is a thoroughly unsympathetic person, not just the usual surly adolescent, but seems almost catatonically stupid, the sort of automaton who could walk through world war without blinking.  At least Tarantino’s  goons have a sense of humour, this guy hasn’t any claim on our attention   His girlfriend is a bit sympathetic and she introduces him to her parents who are weak and well meaning, still, visiting a couple of psychopaths  jacking up on heroin is not the smartest move she ever made.  The matriarch reminds me of the blonde matriarch in The Fighter, and of course she’s like Barbara Windsor being the mother of the Kray twins, a character familiar to the point of comedy  She is clever and manipulative but as far as competition goes she is like a pike in a pond of minnows.  She threatens effectively using police contacts but she can be as mindlessly sociopathic as the rest.  The one sympathetic character is the policeman Leekie.  He talks about the shortness of bugs’ lives in a much longer lived forest, and this ponderous metaphor is presumably meant to justify the film’s title.  He tries to win Josh round to the better part of himself, which for me was invisible at the start of the film, his  sympathy seems lost on Josh.  We know Leekie is solid and decent because he is a family man, cinema’s ultimate badge of approval.  We know he’s got the soul of a social worker.  He’s probably as baffled as the rest of us as to know how criminals can enjoy  their egregious ways of earning a living.

For seventy or eighty years we’ve had the often unedifying spectacle of cinema’s loving fascination with dangerous criminals, it’s vicarious thrills and erotic voyeurism can’t explain the whole of it.  A much better job was done by Sydney Lumet’s Before the Devil knows You’re Dead, which expertly shared the awful claustrophobia of a criminal life.  It shared how people get into a horrifying situation, so there is a human tragedy behind the crime, while Animal Kingdom wallows in crime as such and doesn’t bother to enquire into the circumstances that made people criminals.  This overrated tosh comes  nowhere near Lumet’s film.  People didn’t have small mobile phones in the 1980’s, did they?  They did in this film.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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