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DVD Releases: Animal Kingdom, Mother, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Animal Kingdom (on DVD now): When Josh (James Frecheville) witnesses the overdose of his mother, he has no one to turn to but his extended family– the people his mother always tried to protect him from. We realize why quickly: headed by his uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) and kept together by his loving grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), his family is a troupe of bank robbers and criminals, targets of police investigation and constantly watching their back while continuing to perpetrate crimes of a varying degree. What separates this film from something like Heat or The Town is we don’t see the heists being committed: it takes place afterward. Animal Kingdom, directed by David Michod, is an outstanding Shakespearean tragedy about the sins of the family haunting those around them. It contains some of the best performances of the year, several chilling scenes, and would entertain absolutely anyone who likes a good crime drama.

Their ruthlessness and the way they thumb their noses at the law means that the cops, headed by Leckie (Guy Pearce), have no qualms about being ruthless themselves. The violence in this film is quick and unexpected, never lingering on it, but the effects of the acts pervade throughout the rest of the film. These are fully fleshed-out, charismatic characters who evolve as the events transpire. Frecheville is a newcomer, and he isn’t as expressive with his eyes as a character as quiet as his is requires for this role, but he still does absolutely admirable work and anchors the film well. Still, this movie belong to two actors: Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn. Weaver, earning some well-deserved Academy Award buzz, loves her boys unconditionally, and what she’ll do to keep everyone together is frightening. Her cheery demeanor hides a deep menace, and the performance is spot-on. The real grand slam is hit by Mendelsohn, who I’d only seen as Nic Cage’s friend in Knowing. Nothing could have prepared me for this: he is one of the best and least predictable loose cannon characters I’ve seen on the screen in years. He’s charming and tries to give you the sense that he’s keeping his head, but Pope isn’t as good an actor as Mendelsohn is, his eyes exposing every sick thought. A simple scene in which he’s watching Air Supply sing All Out Of Love on TV becomes one of the best of the year because of this performance. It’s a knockout, and in the hands of such stellar actors, Animal Kingdom is a beast of a film.

Mother (on Netflix Instant Watch now): Boon Jong-Ho has made a career on tackling films that combine genres in unexpected ways and making them work. His last film, The Host, combined comedy, family drama, and monster movie horror to delightful effect… but his newest film, Mother, is even better. It begins by following a mentally challenged young man, Do-Joon (Won Bin) and his overprotective mother (Kim Hye-Ja), and the tone is unmistakably comedic. When a young girl is murdered and Do-Joon is named the prime suspect, and the mother is the only one who thinks her son didn’t do it, it becomes an edge-of-your-seat whodunit mystery, with moments of heartbreak followed by thrills followed by comedy and back again. It’s not dissimilar to something the Coens would make– why wouldn’t a movie this surprising, smart, and well-acted get a wider American release?

Not to toss this word around casually, but there’s genius in this film. The opening shot is gorgeous, unexpected, and full of heart. It’s weird without being unsettling, and I refuse to spoil for those of you who seek this film out (which I strongly recommend). A scene I can discuss: the mother is hiding in a suspect’s house, and the suspect is asleep in a messy room. The mother must sneak out of the room silently, without making any noise herself much less by stepping on any of the land-mine-esque clutter around the room. When she knocks over a drink and the liquid puddle slowly begins to creep toward the suspect’s hand, you sit and think you’re watching a Korean Hitchcock film. The ending would have made Hitchcock proud as well– the final twenty minutes are as surprising and chilling as any ending this year. Best of all, the mystery never outshines the characters. The film is always about the mother’s love for her son. Move this to the top of your queue, it’s without question one of the best films of the year.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (on Netflix Instant Watch now): As far as living comedy pioneers goes, Rivers ranks high on the list in terms of importance and impact. This documentary about a year in her life may lull in extended bouts of self-pity, but Rivers isn’t without reason to be upset: she’s a workaholic whose perception by the public has gone from comedy legend to surgery freakshow. The movie captures in great detail how Rivers is not happy until she’s working, and she’s not happy with her work unless it’s absolutely perfect. A few betrayals in her personal life and some bad reviews have left her very sensitive to criticism, which is somewhat shocking considering her brash style of comedy. It’s a very compelling portrait of Rivers, and it instills in the viewer a sense of how hard a comedian must work to stay relevant in today’s society.

When Joan Rivers shows you her old schedule books, filled to the brim, and then she shows you this year’s book, with oodles of blank pages, one can understand how she got so upset. Footage of her old stand-up still is incredibly funny, and even her zingers nowadays (while far more blue) still manage to shock even the most jaded comedy aficionado. Her sensitivity is at once the most interesting and the most trying aspect of the documentary. She goes on long tangents about how people hate her, which may be true, but as she says it from her luxurious flat filled with expensive furniture, it’s hard to sympathize. Plus, when her play opens in London and audiences love it but the critics are indifferent, she refuses to push to take it to New York, since the last time she was reviewed in New York, it hurt her so bad that she hasn’t returned to a NYC stage since. She can’t take that criticism, yet when a heckler tells her her deaf joke isn’t funny since the heckler’s son is deaf, Rivers goes on a tirade about the importance of being able to laugh at things that aren’t funny which is nothing short of epic. Her personal history, her insight into the world of comedy, and her never-ending drive make her a very watchable figure, and this documentary is watchable and entertaining as a result.

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~ by russellhainline on January 19, 2011.

One Response to “DVD Releases: Animal Kingdom, Mother, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

  1. […] & Enrique Chediak, 127 Hours 4. Michael McDonough, Winter’s Bone 3. Hong Kyung-Pyo, Mother 2. Roger Deakins, True Grit 1. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, […]

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