Animal Kingdom (2010)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old J goes to live with his estranged Grandmother and Uncles, a family of petty criminals in Melbourne, Australia. There’s his Grandma, Smurf, who seems loving and doting. There’s his volatile Uncle Craig, who deals drugs to get by. There’s his other Uncle, Darren, who’s just a few years older than him. And, finally, there’s Pope, the oldest brother, who is in hiding from the police. The film is set during a period in Australian history when bank robbery is out of control, as is the police force, who will kill criminal’s at the drop of a hat. And that, essentially, is what this film is about; waiting for that hat to drop. Because, on the surface, everyone is nice, and everything is going just fine. But there’s always an undercurrent of menace and tension. And when something inevitably goes wrong, the family comes apart, and, as the title suggests, the animals start eating each other.

Animal Kingdom is a very unusual film. It’s a crime thriller with very little violence–except for a few, highly effective, moments–a slow pace, and a greater emphasis on character. It’s the sort of movie that if it was made in America, where pictures tend to move faster and have more bloodshed, probably wouldn’t be as good or interesting. And that’d be a shame, because if there are two words that can aptly summarize Animal Kingdom, they are “good” and “interesting.”

This is a taught, well-acted, well-written family drama,with some fascinating characters, and some very disturbing moments. What it honestly reminded me of was the works of Harold Pinter. If you’ve never heard of him, he was a British playwright, known for penning so-called “comedies of menace.” These were stories set in mundane locations, like a suburban living room, or a dinner party where everyone’s acting nice, but you’re always uneasy, because you suspect that something bad is about to happen. And, most of the time, something bad does happen. Animal Kingdom has that same feel, because there are several points where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like the main family or not. On the surface, they seem nice and normal. They eat dinner together. They take care of each other. In one scene, J’s uncle chastises him for not washing his hands. And yet, in a heartbeat, they’ll pull a gun on someone, or ask J to do something violent and illegal. And that is what keeps you invested; the uncertainty; the not knowing whether or not you can trust these people. For this reason, and the stellar performances, particularly from Ben Mendelsohn, whom plays Pope, and Jackie Weaver, whom plays Smurf, I would highly recommend Animal Kingdom to you all. It is a well-written, well-acted crime drama with great tension, and I think you all would enjoy it if you saw it.

Advertisements

Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

After spending a weekend out in the bush, eight Australian teenagers return to their hometown, only to find it completely deserted. Their parents are gone. Their friends are gone. All their animals are either dead or missing. And no one can come up with a plausible explanation for why. Then, when they head further into town, they learn the horrifying truth; Australia has been invaded by some hostile foreign army, which has kidnapped their families, and is now holding them in concentration camps. Realizing that they must fight to free their nation, the teens take up arms, and begin waging a guerrilla campaign against the invaders. And that’s really all there is to it.

Tomorrow, When The War Began is perfectly watchable, popcorn entertainment. There’s some great action scenes, like when the kids sneak into town, and get spotted by the invaders, and the performances of the eight leads are all very good. They, by far, are the best part of this movie. Their chemistry is great, and they really commit to their roles, even though they’re given some absolutely atrocious dialogue. The whole opening sequence where we see them camping, as sappy and cliched as it is, does have a certain charm to it. We like these characters, and we want them to succeed. So, in that respect, the movie does work.

It’s just that, when it comes to everything else–dialogue, character development, consistency of tone–it really, really doesn’t. Tomorrow, When The War Began is actually based off a series of young adult novels from the 90s, and that is very apparent when you watch this movie. Even though the central conflict is between these kids and the invaders, much, much more screen time is devoted to relationship drama. And that would be fine, in another movie, but when people are literally trying to kill you, I think you should tone down the “how do I relate to my boyfriend?” talk. There’s actually a scene in this film where two of the main characters almost get shot, precisely because they’re spending too much time jabbering about their love interests. And as if that weren’t annoying enough, there’s a lot of pop music in this film. And I don’t just mean in the beginning, when the kids are hanging out. That I would understand. I mean, throughout the entire movie, even in dramatic scenes where characters are talking about death and betrayal, scenes that would normally be silent or have orchestral music in the background, the film blasts top 20 songs. It’s completely jarring, and really takes you out of the movie. But by far the worst aspect of the entire film is the characterization. The protagonists of this movie are one note archetypes; spoiled rich girl, religious fanatic, goof ball, stoner, token Asian guy with no personality, etc. And they never advance beyond that. Which is a real shame, considering that you have a very talented cast, and a very big budget to work with here. The film also relies heavily on racial stereotypes, with all the villains being nameless soldiers from an ambiguous Asian country, and the movie’s only Asian lead, Lee, being introduced in a scene where we see him playing piano in the background while his mother struggles to communicate with the main girl, Ellie. The latter scene is meant to be funny, but I honestly find it kind of cruel whenever someone mocks the fact that another person has an accent, or is misinterpreting certain words. To me, it’s like making fun of someone for having a disability. You have no control over whether or not you have an accent, or whether or not you struggle with a language. And neither of those things reflects your intelligence, o your ability to love or be a good friend. But, like I said, no one in this film is really given any depth, so there is some comfort in that.

Now, based on the description I’ve just given you, you’re probably wondering why I watched this movie. After all, it doesn’t really reflect my social or political views, and since it came out so long ago, and wasn’t that huge a success, there’s no reason for me to watch it. Well, the answer is kind of complicated. Tomorrow, When The War Began is a film I saw as part of a larger effort, from my end, to understand the appeal of nationalism and far-right thinking. Being a Liberal who spent most of his life outside the United States, I’ve never really felt any patriotic fervor, and I’ve never been able to understand how people can embrace the idea of a Border Wall, or banning certain religious groups from entering the country. But, seeing as my government is insistent upon adopting these principles, I decided to find out what, exactly, the appeal of this kind of thinking is. And what better way to do that than analyze art which espouses those ideals?

Well, having just seen Tomorrow, When The War Began, along with Red Dawn, Olympus Has Fallen, and other, similarly nationalistic films, I can kind of understand what the appeal of this type of thinking is. It strips away all the complexity of real life, all the nasty, mirky details that come from thousands of years worth of history, oppression, warfare, and economic necessity, and gives you a very simple “us versus them” story. And I’m not even joking when I say that. We never actually learn what country the kids are fighting, or why Australia has been invaded. That doesn’t matter. They’re just “the bad guys.” They’re “the other.” That’s all you need to know. And that simplicity caused a light to go off in my head. The appeal of fascism, or rightism, if you want to be “politically correct,” is its simplicity. You can draw a clear line through all of its chief tenants; government bad, military good, ethnic group above all else. And that simplicity is appealing. It’s easy to grasp. It’s easy to remember. People can get behind a simple idea. People can chant a simple idea. People can fight for a simple idea. Because, when you actually stop, and think about all the things that make up this world we live in, all the complicated facets of a government or a business, you realize that you can’t really do anything. Because before you can take one step forward, you have to take five other things into consideration. That’s the problem with Liberalism. It’s tenants are too complicated for large groups to chant. If someone were to ask me, right now, what Liberalism was, I wouldn’t know how to answer. Because there are so many different ideologies and subgroups that fall under that umbrella term–environmentalists, socialists, feminists, racial equality activists, disability rights activists, immigrant rights activists, criminal justice reformers–many of which are also divided, and even competing with one another, that it doesn’t have the means to unify into a solid front. Rightism also lends itself very well to dramatic art, which necessitates the existence of a clear protagonist and antagonist, an “us” and “them,” so, naturally, much more media with a right wing stance gets made. And because more media with a right wing stance gets made, precisely because its easier to make, more people get exposed to those viewpoints, and internalize them. Some of the most famous action movies of all time–Die Hard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, True Lies–have extremely xenophobic and nationalistic narratives. And because so many people have watched them and like them, they start to accept the philosophies they espouse.

Now I realize that this has strayed very far from a discussion of Tomorrow, When The War Began, but, the truth is, this movie is symptomatic of a larger issue. It’s philosophy, it’s easy to grasp, us versus them thinking, is appealing to lots of people. My parents were shocked that Donald Trump could ever win the American Presidency, but they never stopped to ask what about him, and what he stood for, appealed to people. He made politics simple. He made it digestible and easy to get behind, much like how this film does. And while I can’t say I’d recommend this film to anyone, much as how I can’t say I’ll ever agree with right wing ideals, I do recommend that you learn from it. It gives you a crash course in what people like about the right, and, in this day and age, where the right is what’s in charge, that’s going to be an absolute must.