Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I caught a media preview of the new Australian film Animal Kingdom last Friday, and am delighted to report that it lives up to all the praise that's been heaped on it since screening at Sundance (where it won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema - Dramatic). My full review of the film is up at Arts Hub, but here's the gist of the piece:

'At the centre of the film is the softly spoken teenage protagonist Joshua ‘J’ Cody (newcomer James Frecheville), thrust into a world of crime following his mother’s sudden death. “Mum kept me away from her family, because she was scared,” the teenager comments in voice-over, and we soon learn why.

Joshua’s uncles – brooding armed robber Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (a cold-eyed Ben Mendelsohn), speed-freak drug dealer Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and the youngest of the three brothers, Darren Cody (Luke Ford) – are career criminals whose lives revolve around their ferociously loving, totally uncompromising mother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (a magnificent performance by Jacki Weaver).

When a sudden death sends the family spiraling out of control, J discovers that his new world is far more dangerous than he could ever have imagined.

From the opening scene, which perfectly and surprisingly underplays its dramatic potential, it is clear that David Michôd is very much in control of his medium.

Central to the film’s success is the writer/director’s decision to focus first and foremost on the Cody family. While this is, on one level, a crime story – and a compelling one – at its heart, Animal Kingdom is a family drama: the story of a family of sociopaths and the poisonous bonds between them.

The characters are meticulously drawn, especially Joel Edgerton’s Barry ‘Baz’ Brown, a criminal experiencing a mid-life crisis as opportunities for armed robbers dry up, and Pope’s best friend. Baz is perhaps the most stable of the crew, and his influence and concern for J – evidenced in an almost tender bathroom scene – verges on the paternal.

Guy Pearce as Detective Senior Sgt Nathan Leckie is an equally compelling figure; a hardened copper who sees J as potentially providing the leverage he needs to crack the murder case he’s investigating, but also a loving family man, and once again a potential father figure for the sullen, sad teenager.

Watching J being pulled in opposite directions, between crime and justice, between honesty and loyalty, the audience knows that sooner or later he has to crack. It’s in guessing which side he will land on that makes Animal Kingdom such engaging and dramatic viewing.

The finely tuned performances, a bleak palette, the superb sound design – at its most memorable in a chilling scene in which a tense Pope sits watching J’s sleeping girlfriend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright) as Air Supply’s bland pop song ‘I’m All Out of Love’ plays on the soundtrack, underscored by an ominous base tone evoking the drama to come – and wonderfully taut editing further contribute to the masterful whole which Michôd and his collaborators have created.'

In other words, I loved it, and very much look forward to seeing it again.

Animal Kingdom opens nationally on June 3, 2010.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I'm trying to give up drinking at the moment, and to be honest, I'm finding it pretty hard going.

After the abject failure which was my attempt at FebFast, I realised I actually had a fairly significant problem with alcohol, so consequently three weeks ago I enlisted professional help by consulting the Turning Point Drug & Alcohol Centre in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.

After my first meeting with a GP there, and regular home visits from a nurse, things started well: my first week of trying not to drink I had four days off the grog - at least a 10 year record - and the following week I was alcohol-free for six days: a personal best, given that I started drinking at about 13, when my parents introduced the idea of half a glass of wine at dinner in an attempt to convey the concept of sensible drinking (I think the plan backfired - it probably hard-wired a liking for booze into my adolescent brain, and as a concept would certainly be frowned upon today).

I also managed not to drink under some fairly trying circumstances, such as my farewell drinks from Melbourne Fringe a couple of weeks ago (I've resigned from the Board after eight years, three of them as Chair), which I was pretty bloody happy with, all things considered. Who knew mineral water could be so satisfying a substitute? And I've certainly drastically reduced my alcohol intake.

Equally pleasing, I lost 2.5 kilos by the end of the second week, which was especially encouraging: I weighed myself a couple of days before my non-drinking attempt began and discovered to my horror that I weighed 100.6 kg - the most I've ever weighed, that I know of. I used to weigh about 85 kg the last time I properly checked - which was, admittedly, about eight years ago.

This week, unfortunately, I've fallen back into some bad habits - a glass of wine at lunchtime, a bottle of wine finished by the evening, with a few ciders as a post-dinner chaser - which means I've only had a couple of alcohol free days this week. I've put some weight back on as well.

So, from tomorrow the plan is to go back to total abstinence from alcohol, at least for a couple of months; a plan which will be helped by having my first regular appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor on Friday. It's not going to be easy, I know, but I hope I can do it.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I saw the new iteration of Robin Hood at the on Monday night. I was less than impressed. Here's an extract of the review I wrote for Arts Hub:

'Unfortunately for audiences, there is little to recommend in this latest version of Robin Hood. As with the trend in comic books to render once glittering, larger-than-life icons like Batman and Superman into gritty and angst-ridden contemporary characters, in making this account of the outlaw’s life ‘realistic’, the filmmakers have lost the original sparkle and romance of the legend.

The story sags under a barrage of unnecessary details, such as Robin’s discovery that his late father was responsible for drafting the Magna Carta (anyone with an eye for historical accuracy will be grinding their teeth in frustration by the final moments of the film’s 140-minute running time) and the hodge-potch of politics, revisionism and family angst considerably impacts on the pacing, with the film really only finding its feet in the film’s third and final act.

The numerous battle scenes, while dramatically shot, are overly reliant on clichés such as ‘arrow-cam’; the many characters are so thinly drawn as to be mere ciphers; and lazy storytelling abounds.

The production design is strong but inconsistent – sets are liberally decorated with random ruins and standing stones in order to establish an ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere, and a rustic musical sequence halfway through the film is truly jarring – while none of the performances (save for John Hurt as William Marshall, a nobleman loyal to the throne, though not necessarily the man who sits in it) are especially memorable. The chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett is particularly poor, while their burgeoning relationship is sketched out in the most perfunctory of details.

A sober, serious and ploddingly earnest re-telling of the legendary English hero, Robin Hood is neither memorable nor especially original. Like other films seeking to explore the historical ‘truth’ behind a legend, such as Antoine Fuqua’s woeful King Arthur and Wolfgang Petersen’s equally laboured Troy (both released in 2004), in removing any sense of wonder from the story, Scott and Helgeland have drained it of any magic.'

Give me Errol Flynn any day.