Named by Quentin Tarantino as his third favourite movie of 2010 (behind Toy Story 3 and The Social Network, surreally enough) Animal Kingdom (Optimum) is the grim but gripping study of a dysfunctional family of Australian petty criminals.
After his mother dies from a heroin overdose, 17-year-old Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) phones his estranged grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver) for advice on what he should do next.
Despite their fragile family bond, she invites J to move in with her and her sons, and he accepts. The eldest son is Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), a notorious armed robber who is currently in hiding from a group of rogue detectives who are determined to bring him down at any cost. Still at home are middle brother Craig, a paranoid, volatile drug dealer with police connections, and younger brother Darren, who is content to follow in his older brothers’ violent slipstream.
After Pope’s best friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) is shot by cops in order to lure the sociopathic Pope out of hiding, the unhinged criminal instigates an eye-for-an-eye cop killing, setting in motion an increasingly violent chain of events. In the middle of the carnage is J -naively trying to navigate his way through the seedy Melbourne underworld, without getting caught in the crossfire.
Writer/director David Michod’s feature-length debut is devoid of the usual trappings of the gangster genre, and its languid mood proves disarming at times. Although its ponderous pace may alienate viewers who are used to more high-octane thrills and spills, the top-drawer cast deliver an impeccable array of performances, and the undercurrent of menace is palpable throughout. After scooping the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Animal Kingdom’s reputation precedes it, but stripped of the hype the film is easy to admire on its own merits. Brutal stuff.
Nicolas Cage’s cinematic mid-life crisis has been well-documented, and aside from the odd gem, such as Bad Lieutenant, the Oscar-winning star’s recent material leaves a lot to be desired. His latest attempt to recapture the verve of his younger days is Drive Angry (Lionsgate), a hyper-stylised revenge movie directed by Patrick Lussier, the man behind the gory My Bloody Valentine 3D.
Cage stars as John Milton, a violent career criminal who has quite literally escaped from Hell in order to wreak vengeance against the evil cult that slaughtered his daughter. Accompanied by Piper (Amber Heard, And Soon The Darkness) a feisty waitress with a penchant for muscle cars, Milton must track the vicious cult down before they sacrifice his long-lost granddaughter beneath a full moon. However, Milton’s woes don’t end there -he’s also being trailed by a whacked-out hitman known as ‘The Accountant’ (William Fichtner, Prison Break) who has been despatched to haul Milton back to Hell.
Thankfully, what could have been a cringe-worthy dirge is actually a gloriously trashy slice of B-movie mayhem that revels in its own base instincts. Boosted by an amusingly droll performance from the versatile Fichtner and a spirited sidekick stint from Heard, the movie makes no excuses for its lack of taste and decency. At one point Nicolas Cage’s character participates in an epic gun battle while simultaneously having sex, drinking whisky and smoking a cigar! Drive Angry won’t be enough to rescue Cage’s hopelessly derailed career -in fact it will probably spur him on sink even lower -but it makes for a surprisingly enjoyable viewing experience. Good, unclean fun.
Starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) in an atypically lightweight role, The Resident (Icon) is a slick but soulless psychological thriller about a single woman whose dream home becomes a nightmare.
Swank plays Dr Juliet Devereau, a newly-single Emergency Room surgeon who is desperate for a fresh start after a messy break-up. After struggling to find a new apartment to match her limited budget, Juliet chances upon a newly renovated building owned by the shy but handsome Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen, The Losers). At first glance, Max appears to be the perfect landlord, and his easy manner helps to soothe Juliet’s frazzled nerves. However, it isn’t long before things take a turn for the worst, with Juliet spooked by a series of mysterious incidents.
Unknown to her, however, the apartment building is home to a warren of secret passages -created by the voyeuristic Max -allowing him to spy on Juliet, and sneak into her apartment at any time. Needless to say, Max’s growing fixation soon spirals out of control, and Juliet is forced to fight back against the man she once trusted implicitly.
Despite a solid cast -buoyed by Hammer Horror veteran Christopher Lee as Max’s frail grandfather August -for long spells The Resident is more embarrassing than menacing, and never quite does its queasy premise justice. Even worse -it features the most cringeworthy movie masturbation scene since Vince Vaughn pleasured himself in the dodgy remake of Psycho -when Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a ‘Hilary Swank’ in Juliet’s bathtub! Watchable, but far from essential.