Animal Kingdom – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 78: Animal Kingdom

Poster for the 2010 Australian movie Animal Kingdom

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched Muriel’s Wedding and it was one of the best we’ve had so far in the CRFC.

The Choice

Like last time it came down to a binary choice. On the one hand Animal Kingdom (2010), a gritty crime drama. On the other, Children of the Revolution (1996), a comedy about Stalin having an illegitimate Australian heir. I was mainly considering the latter to compare with last year’s excellent The Death of Stalin (plus it seems fairly positively reviewed and has Geoffrey Rush, F Murray Abraham and Sam Neill in). Then I watched the trailer and… it was Animal Kingdom all the way.

The Link

Dan Wyllie

Actor Dan Wyllie in Muriel's Wedding

Dan Wyllie in Muriel’s Wedding

He was one of Muriel’s deadbeat siblings last time, and seems to be something if a mainstay of Aussie film and TV. I’ve not seen him in anything else, but as he’s one of a couple of cast members who could link is to Animal Kingdom, it’s time for a second bite of Wyllie.

Animal Kingdom and me

I’ve always been a bit scared of Animal Kingdom, if I’m honest. I don’t gravitate towards gritty crime stuff at the best of times (there are a LOT of seminal British gangster films I’ve never seen), and this is Australian. And in my head Australian films tend to have an extra layer of grit, an extra twist of the knife.

Proposition

This is the image that springs to mind when I think “Aussie cinema…”

The Proposition always sticks in the mind as an example, but it’s true of the first couple of Mad Max films too (fyi I will not hear a single word against Mad Max Fury Road, but that’s a different topic for another day). Muriel’s Wedding demonstrated this too, tackling topics a UK or Hollywood film about Abba and weddings would not go to. And last year’s It Comes At Night, directed by Animal Kingdom star Joel Edgerton, fits the bill too…

So although I’ve only ever heard great things about it, Animal Kingdom scares me.

IMDB says

A seventeen year-old navigates his survival amongst an explosive criminal family and the detective who thinks he can save him. 7.3 stars.

I says

Well I don’t know what I was so worried about. It’s not exactly a light hearted romp, mind, but there’s a lovely sensitivity to Animal Kingdom that balances out the subject.

Animal Kingdom 005

James Frecheman and Dan Wyllie

When the opening scene was of J (James Frecheman), a teenager, calling paramedics to attend to his ODed mum, who had died, I’ll admit I felt a little bit justified in my fear. That said teenager is then inducted into his extended family who specialise in armed robbery didn’t help. A family being molested by police who are, by all accounts, itching to shoot first and plant evidence later…

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GRIT! SO MUCH GRI- Hang on…

But the violence, when it comes, isn’t lingered on. There’s a spray of blood from off camera here, a gentle panning away there. J doesn’t have to see the worst of it, and we’re not made to either. So J is hauled in for questioning by Guy Pearce’s tired cop we still have sympathy for him holding out. He’s not a saint himself, and the family have shielded him from the worst brutality.

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Grumblegrumble Gritty Moustache grumblegrumble

Let’s just pause and have a chat about Guy Pearce for a second. After Memento he was bona fide leading man material. He’s hunky, he’s interesting. And yet he rocks up in strange roles. The weatherbeaten cop here, the tacitern lead in The Rover, Weyland in Prometheus. He hasn’t gone down the star route, whether by choice or the ins and outs of the hollywood system. But he is consistently interesting and just slightly weirder than you expect (without being a stone cold oddball). I think Robert Pattinson might have taken notes from his career trajectory.

Anyway, J’s uncles are a combination of inspiring (cheers, Joel Edgerton), maverick (cheers, whatseryername from the 300 sequel), and creepy (cheers Ben Mendlesohn). His girlfriend’s family are a great contrast, a clear family unit but not saccharine. And over it all Jackie Weaver’s matriarch presides. She’s a Lady Macbeth figure with the hard edges tucked away so far that you forget all about them. And when she brings it, it’s in such a matter of fact style that it’s all so perfectly natural.

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Something real gritty might be happening, careful

I liked The Rover, David Michod’s follow up film, very much too. Critics made loads of smug puns that sort of spoiled some plot stuff, so if you’ve not seen it do give it a watch, but don’t read too much about it first.

The Verdict

I am less scared of Australian films than I was before, but no less impressed.

Coming Attractions

We could stay paddling around in Australian waters, but with Joel Edgerton and Jacqui Weaver having made a number of international films maybe we won’t… It’s Tim’s choice, so who knows where we’ll end up.

@BornToPootle

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Finding an Ancient Manuscript

This week I’ve come to understand how all those Victorian explorers must have felt plundering Egyptian tombs and ancient temples. And not because I’ve started taking laudanum.

I posted recently about just fucking doing it, and in that spirit I dove back into planning a novel that I was working up a year or two ago. But at the same time I remembered that I had a whole manuscript sitting in a box that, upon completion, I’d never read. And so I read it.

And so I read it.

When I first started trying to write a novel I entered NaNoWriMo 2009 and ended up with my first ever beginning-middle-end longform story. It was called Hello Summertime and stretched to about 50,000 words (on the short side for something that might actually get published). And it was, of course, a right old mess. At that point I was a dedicated pantser, someone who thought planning a novel would kill the fun of writing. These days I’m quite the opposite because frankly, the plot was godawful.

Anyway, I wrote a few other short bits and bobs, and the first drafts of a couple of other novels. Along the way I did more research about how to plan a novel, plot structure and all that good stuff. So when I was letting a draft of a different novel sit, I started planning and then comprehensively rewrote the whole of Hello Summertime from scratch. The (sort of) second draft was 95,000 words. And then I put it to one side. That was in 2013 or thereabouts.

I’ve just finished rereading the manuscript and that’s where the explorer analogy comes in. Some of it I remember, some not at all. It’s like delving through the mind of me from 5 years ago and looking at what was occupying my thoughts, what themes were on my mind…. and what words I was overusing (anything involving walking/moving/stepping/heading and looking/staring/gazing fyi).

There’s a lot in there that’s reminiscent of themes in other stuff I’m working on. I once heard an interview with Emma Thompson about her dad, the Magic Roundabout creator. In it she said that people often write where they need healing, which is something I think about a lot. Is that why Stephen King often has alcoholic father figures in his books? I’m pretty sure that’s why my themes go the way they do (which I may talk about in a different post, but I’m not drunk enough today).

Anyway, like those Victorian explorers (or Indiana Jones, just to mix it up a bit) I must now decide whether the manuscript belongs in a museum, or whether I should try and flog it to the highest bidder. And it’s tricky. The novel is in rough shape in places, but seems pretty fixable. The language is very basic and full of repetition, but polishing the language is a job for further down the line. It’s the flow of the plot and characterisation that is more pressing.

As an aside, one of the reasons I let it sit originally is that it’s on a topic that was suddenly pretty overwhelmed a few years ago. The first draft was about a zombie apocalypse, though in the rewrite I got rid of the zombies. My heart wasn’t in it, so to speak. I was (and am) more interested in the emptiness of the world after a plague or similar rather than the shambling hordes. And it’s always people who are the real baddies in zombie stuff anyway.

But do you know what else is interesting? The new novel I’m planning full of ghosts and psychedelic cults. So I’ve come up with what I think is an alright plan… I’m going to spend the next couple of months doing a mild redraft of Hello Summertime to fix some of the glaringly obvious stuff. I’ve put together a bit of a writing schedule for myself as well as a deadline, as otherwise nothing will happen. I’m also going to dedicate a few spots of writing time to working up a one page synopsis of my new project. Then I’m going to send both off for a pro critique, see what the feedback and let that help me decide where to spend my time.

So I’ve come up with what I think is an alright plan… I’m going to spend the next couple of months doing a mild redraft of Hello Summertime to fix some of the glaringly obvious stuff. I’ve put together a bit of a writing schedule for myself as well as a deadline, as otherwise nothing will happen. I’m also going to dedicate a few spots of writing time to working up a one page synopsis of my new project. Then I’m going to send both off for a pro critique, see what the feedback and let that help me decide where to spend my time.

I want to be done with the redraft by the end of April at the latest, so hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I want to spend the rest of my writing year in May.

The only fly in the ointment is that I’ve had an idea for turning the first part of Hello Summertime into a one man stage show and am Quite Excited about it. But that can wait until May, right?

Muriel’s Wedding – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 77: Muriel’s Wedding

Muriel 001

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

Snogging boys out the back of the Yeoman, confusing feelings for Jamie Theakston, oh and the film Velvet Goldmine. It’s one of my favourite posts in the CRFC saga so far, so please check it out if you haven’t already.

The Choice

It was up to Tim and he managed to narrow it down to The Dark Knight and Muriel’s Wedding. One we’ve both seen (him repeatedly) but are always up for a rewatch, the other is an Australian film about a lady getting married… So that’s what we picked!

The Link

Toni Collette

Muriel 003

Usually I’d use an image from the previous film here, but I just don’t wanna

Well I didn’t know she was Australian, so it’s true that every day is a school day (though not sure that’s on any curriculum. And, well, she’s fab generally, isn’t she. Whether it’s an off kilter indie or a Hollywood romcom she tends to bring the goods. She’s never been one of those actors I get properly excited about and would see something purely because of (take a bow Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell, alongside whom she starred in The Way Way Back), but I’m usually pleased to see her.

Muriel’s Wedding and me

This falls into the heard-of-but-never-seen category. Some would say that it also falls into the chick-flick category to which I would say a number of things (my wife is studying for an MA in gender studies so I’d copy some long words out of her textbooks), but the upshot would be that I think that’s a singularly unhelpful genre label and normalises the idea that other genres are for men. So. There’s that.

It’s also forever tied up in my head with the film Let Him Have It about the last person to be hanged in the UK, purely because I heard them both advertised on Capital fm around the chart show, albeit a couple of years apart. I imagine they’re quite different.

M8DLEHI EC010

Muriel’s Beheading would’ve been a great pun. If only the UK had employed the guillotine.

IMDB says

A young social outcast in Australia steals money from her parents to finance a vacation where she hopes to find happiness, and perhaps love.

I says

Genres labels are stupid. They come with so many preconceptions for starters. Take ‘goth’ as an example. There’s the black clothing, the make-up, the scowling and the listening to Sisters of Mercy… and while some of that may be accurate (or certainly was for me), that’s never the whole of it.

On a Friday night at the Yeoman (second week in a row I’ve been able to shoehorn that pub in. I’d ask for a commission if they hadn’t closed 18 years ago) our goth gang would gather and drink Smirnoff Ice until we were wobbly. Then on particularly special nights Dancing Queen would come on the stereo and up would go one of our number, up on to a table, and a dancing queen he would be.

Muriel 004

The Kentish Yeoman, Tunbridge Wells, circa 1998. Around 11pm.

Which is to say that whether you’re a goth, emo, hardcore punk, grime obsessive or whatever, Abba know their way around a tune.

So finding out that the backbone of the film was the music of Abba was not exactly off putting. If you’re drunk and Abba are playing and you’re not dancing then you are doing it wrong. Or you’re too drunk and everyone should get out of vomit range.

I’m going to leap into spoiler territory now, but for a film about a wedding-obsessed social misfit looking for love after making a break for the big city, jesus christ does it go to some dark places. My initial reaction as the credits rolled was to say that you could tell it wasn’t an American film. The Hollywood version wouldn’t have the balls and the indie version wouldn’t have the charm. To juggle life-changing disability, suicide, selfish main characters, dance routines and sex slapstick and come out with a coherent charming and moving film is really quite incredible.

Toni Collette’s Muriel goes through the whole standard hollywood character arc in the first act of this, from retiring shrew to ballsy extrovert with a rebellious best friend in tow. And then the film has the nerve to keep going, to show where she goes next and the ramifications of her actions on those around her. Some of them have it coming, some of them not so much. But the film doesn’t pull those punches.

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Rachel Griffiths is The Best.

This is one of the earliest credits for both Collette and Rachel Griffiths (as one of cinema’s best best friends) and it is not hard to see why they have both gone on to long successful careers. They are really rather good in it, and work brilliantly together too.

So. It’s a chick-flick. About Abba and weddings. And I loved it.

Muriel 002

Toni Collette doing an impression of me watching Muriel’s Wedding.

But I imagine that’s apparent.

The Verdict

If you are not on your feet cheering during the Waterloo routine then I put it to you that you are, in fact, dead.

Muriel 004

An all-time great scene. Really.

Coming Attractions

Lots of Aussie actors to pick from, a few of whom have crossed over into American cinema too. I might try and keep it down under for now though, just for a bit of a change.

@BornToPootle