CROSSING THE PACIFIC — INTRIGUING AUSTRALIANS

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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Picking a movie on Saturday night is like looking for a restaurant when you’re too hungry – the lower your blood sugar drops, the more you want your meal to be perfect: not just delicious and unique, but emotionally fulfilling.

On a Saturday in front of the tube, we’re looking for something that’s equal parts heady and gutsy, but just popcorn-y enough that we don’t fall asleep.

So that’s what we’re always looking for here at The Thread.

Sometimes we play with a theme (like Robin Hood last week).

But week after week, what really gets us going are the random obscure connections that we stumble across in the course of our research each week.

So.  The new release that caught our fancy this week is from writing/directing team Ryan Fleck and Ann Boden (Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story).  We could have done a Gambling theme; started with 1974’s The Gambler (James Caan); and included Philip Seymour Hoffman’s fantastic Owning Mahoney (2003).

But the main reason Mississippi Grind caught our eye is the new-to-you Aussie lead with a dark spot on his heart – Ben Mendelsohn.  That guy, whose name never knew.  Once we started poking around in his past, we found some interesting stuff.

 

 

 MISSISSIPPI GRIND
MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015)

Fleck and Boden (who have been collaborating since NYU film school) cast Ben Mendelsohn as Curtis, an Iowa real estate salesman whose true vocation is obsessive gambling.  The casting seems like predestination – both the writer/director team and the actor are fixated on characters who quietly but desperately try to solve the insoluble existential puzzle.

Into Curtis’ low-luck life comes a lucky guy — the effortless, charismatic Gerry – better looking, a little smarter, but just as addicted.

As the new friends travel downriver looking for the big score that will heal all wounds, Mendelsohn does an intense slow boil, and pretty-boy Reynolds gives a layered performance that may be the best of his career.  This creative team seems to have a knack for those – think Ryan Gosling in Full Nelson.

With a heavy debt to Altman’s California Split and other bohemian character studies from the 70’s, the movie is more artsy than caper-y.  It premiered at Sundance and opens small this weekend.

 YouTube

 

 

animal_kingdom_andrew_mom
ANIMAL KINGDOM (2011)

Four years after its release, Animal Kingdom is already a 21st Century Australian classic.  A Down Under Goodfellas, it’s the fast-out-of-the-gate first feature by director David Michôd.  The film won the World Cinema prize at Sundance, and got Jacki Weaver (above, with Mendelsohn) several nominations including Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

After his mother dies of an overdose, a young man is goes to live with his grandmother (Weaver) and is initiated into his extended crime family, while simultaneously wooed by a cop, played by Guy Pearce.

Mendelsohn plays one of his uncles, a borderline psychopath, described to a “t” by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian: “a neurotic obsessive whose criminally murderous behaviour is less a career choice than a pattern of irrational compulsion entirely outside his control.”  In other words, classic Mendelsohn.

Animal Kingdom was Mendelsohn’s comeback film.  It finally put him on the Hollywood radar as a go-to character actor.  Here and elsewhere the core element of Mendelsohn’s performances is danger – he has the ability to hover in a space of uncontrol that is much more common in real that film performances.

The two performances (Mendelsohn and Weaver) are reason enough to see the film.   But it’s also worth seeing for Michod’s talent and the kinetic outsider spin he gives to American genre conventions.

Amazon Google Play Vudu iTunes

 

 

YEAR MY VOICE BROKE, THE, Ben Mendelsohn, Loene Carmen, Noah Taylor, 1989

Animal Kingdom was a sort of late bloomer comeback for  Mendelsohn.  He first came to prominence as the bad boy jock who knocks up the girl, in this coming-of-age story directed by John Duigan (Flirting, Wide Sargasso Sea) and produced by George Miller (Mad Max).

Mendelsohn won the AFI Best Supporting Actor honor for his performance, and went on to a big career in Australia, where he was as famous as Guy Pierce, Russell Crowe and his costar here, Noah Taylor.   Mendelsohn specialized in angry young men, but also nailed some solid romantic leads.

Then all the others went on to Hollywood.  Crowe and Pearce made it big.  Taylor reprised his Voice Broke character in the sequel Flirting, young David Helfgott in Shine, and worked steadily in American film and TV.  (Recently, Game of Thrones)  Mendelsohn never quite caught on in L.A., and slowly his career dwindled, until the inspired casting of Kingdom.

The Year My Voice Broke is charming, innocent, picturesque — and feels a little clichéd.  But it makes a great double bill with Flirting (part two of Duigan’s never-completed trilogy) where Taylor is joined by Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton.

As it turns out, it’s really hard to find here in the States.  You have to buy it on Amazon:

Amazon

 

 

 

The Rover
THE ROVER (2014)

As we said above, part of the thrill of each week’s hunt are the oblique connections.  So let us digress a moment from Mendelsohn, and follow the thread to Michôd.

Michôd’s second film is a post-apocalyptic second film could have been: “Pattinson Acts!”  Yep, that’s him that Guy Pearce is so mad at above.

Guy Pearce was well established in Hollywood by the time he went home to do Animal Kingdom; and his bond with Michôd was strong enough that he returned again to make The Rover.

In The Rover, Pearce plays is an ex-soldier wandering the lawless Australian desert 10 years after a global economic meltdown.  Pattinson, who is British, was determined not to get stuck in the rut of his Twilight persona, so he actually auditioned for the role of a slow, tic-ridden, damaged but violent American.

The result is flawed but worth watching, for the mood, the curiosity of Pattinson’s performance, for his dynamic with Pierce, and just to see what Michôd does on his second outing.  The film is better in theory than in fact — atmosphere and staging are solid, but it’s oddly structured, and even though it’s meant to be a character piece, there’s a narrative void.

But, we should also mention, some people are on record as really liking it.  Like Quentin Tarentino, whose oddball tastes we really respect.

Up next for Michod — Hollywood.  He’s directing Brad Pitt’s war satire, The War Machine – which in a notable coupe was picked up by Netflix’ new film distribution arm.

Google Play Amazon iTunes Vudu

 

 

The Square
THE SQUARE (2008)

Story credit for The Rover is shared by Joel Edgerton, the actor/writer/director who played Ramses last year in Ridley Scott’s Exodus.  We’re dying to see The Gift, the twisty, low-boil psychological thriller that is Edgerton’s directing debut.  It’s still in a few theatres, but doesn’t come out on video until October 27.

In the meantime, take a look at this 2008 debut film by Edgerton’s brother, Nash Edgerton (also written by and starring Joel).  Nash works (a lot) as a stuntman, and both brothers are members of the Blue-Tongue Films collective, which also includes Michod.

The Square has a classic film noir setup – married lovers, found cash.  The director unfolds the intricate plot like an origami puzzle, steadily and relentlessly.

When the movie came out, it was compared to Blood Simple, and the Edgertons were compared to the Coens.  See for yourself if the comparison holds up.

Amazon Vudu

 

 

Bloodline-Danny
BLOODLINE (2015)

At this point, both the Edgertons and Michod seem on the brink of success.  Which is why we’re so interested in seeing what they do next.  But it’s been 7 years since The Square.  And to be honest, The Rover didn’t come near the promise of Animal Kingdom.

And sure, not all success has to be in LA.  But still, after years of working steadily but not quite living up to his early promise, is Ben Mendelsohn ready for his Hollywood moment?

Friends disagreed…. But despite the presence of Sam Shepard, who we admire; Sissy Spacek, who we adore; and Kyle Chandler, the nominal star… for us the first season of Netflix’ Bloodline only worked for us when Mendelsohn was onscreen.

Which, even more than his Emmy nom, we assume to be the reason they’re bringing him back next year as a regular character.  Despite the fact that – well, we’ll skip the spoiler, but see if you agree.

Netflix

 

ROBIN HOOD ON THE MEAN STREETS

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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The legend of Robin Hood is firmly entrenched in folklore — the deeply moral outlaw from a noble family who, with his band of merry men, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. The legend has been embraced by criminals and gangsters to give themselves a human face and to gain the trust and support of the “common people”.

This week at The Thread with the much-anticipated release of Black Mass we take a look at films about criminals who have successfully exploited a populist image to endear themselves to the masses.

(Boston, MA, 05/27/14) Johnny Depp plays the part of Whitey Bulger in the movie production of Black Mass while shooting a scene in East Boston on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Staff photo by Christopher Evans.

BLACK MASS (2015)

There is a lot of buzz that this film represents Johnny Depp’s comeback after a long run of pirate schlock and movie missteps. We hope it’s true.

Set in 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (up-and-coming Aussie Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster, James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), to cooperate with the FBI in eliminating the Italian mob – who, coincidentally, are Whitey’s competition.

The drama tells the true story of this unholy alliance which quickly spiraled out of control allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history. After Bin Laden’s death Whitey moved up to #1 on the Most Wanted list.

Whitey played rich uncle to less fortunate fellow Bostonians, giving away groceries, turkeys on Thanksgiving, and so on. He did act as a Robin Hood of sorts – he was even credited with keeping drugs out of south Boston — when he wasn’t trafficking drugs there himself and mowing down anybody who got in his way.

iTunes 

narcosNARCOS (2015)

We just binge-watched this series last week. And despite nightly dreams of kidnapping and murder we really loved it. But Pablo Escobar as Robin Hood for Colombia’s poverty-stricken unfortunates? Given his unflinching ruthlessness, we found this one hard to swallow.

During his meteoric rise as Columbia’s most infamous drug lord he did hand out millions of dollars and build houses for the poor…   But in the end, Escobar’s good intentions were a political strategy — a tool in his campaign for congress, his successful attempt to abolish extradition laws, and an effort to squash any government action against his massive drug operation.

In the early years, cartel leader Escobar is portrayed as a self-made man of the people and valiant seeker of equality — but that’s just the public face of this complex figure. He’s also portrayed as an adulterer, a mass murderer and, as his battle with the national government intensifies, a paranoid madman on the run.

Netflix

american gangsterAMERICAN GANGSTER (2007)

Ridley Scott directed this biopic about notorious Harlem-based drug lord Frank Lucas. Incredibly, in the 1970s he managed to oust the Mafia, take over their territory and initiate a massive heroin trade, importing drugs in the coffins of Vietnam War casualties. Denzel Washington performs a chilling star turn in this epic story as devoted family man who rules his domain with ruthless tactics and a strict code of honor.

Lucas’ motto was: “Treat people right, keep a low profile, adhere to sound business practices and hand out turkeys on Thanksgiving.” Hence his nickname: The Robin Hood of Harlem.

 iTunes      Netflix     Amazon

The_DepartedTHE DEPARTED (2006)

Martin Scorsese’s film is more loosely based on “Whitey” Bulger. Set in South Boston, it concerns a state police force crusade to take down the city’s top organized crime ring. Their ace in the hole as they fight to end the reign of the powerful mob boss, played by Jack Nicholson, is a rookie cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes undercover to infiltrate the mob. Ironically, Nicholson’s mob boss has the same idea and plants his own man, played by Matt Damon, inside the police task force investigating him.

Once again the mob leader was seen as a Robin Hood figure: when we first see him, he’s buying groceries for a poor widow in the neighborhood. The joke, of course, is that he’s shaking down the store where he bought the groceries for protection money

 iTunes      Netflix     Amazon

dillingerDILLINGER (1973)

Director John Milius’ Dillinger chronicles the life of notorious bank robber John Dillinger who became a folk hero among Depression-era Americans.

After his initial arrest, Dillinger made a daring prison escape–purportedly using a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun. In the early 1930s, most people were short on cash; banks were seen as one of the causes of their misery and the police were seen as oppressors on the payroll of the fat cats (especially after Prohibition and the waves Dust-Bowl-era bank foreclosures of family farms).

Dillinger and his gang were blamed for more bank robberies than they could have possibly committed, fueling the flames of their legend. But Dillinger was generous with the cash he did accumulate, which went a long way in convincing people to protect the gang.

A newsreel about the case was shown in theaters, and across America audiences cheered when Dillinger’s picture appeared on the screen. They hissed at pictures of D.O.I. (forerunner of the FBI) special agents. When Director J. Edgar Hoover heard about this, he was outraged. Hoover put the town of Mooresville under surveillance, and threatened to prosecute the Dillinger family unless they cooperated.

Dillinger’s very public death at the hands of federal agents in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago (he had enjoyed the Clark Gable movie, Manhattan Melodrama) made a fitting climax to the epic story of an everyman who dared to stick it to authorities. And, speaking of sticking it, a notorious post-mortem picture of Dillinger reportedly confirmed the rumor that he was unusually well-endowed.

In Public Enemy Michael Mann’s 2008 Dillinger biopic Dillinger was played by non other than Johnny Depp.

 iTunes      Netflix     Amazon

robinhoodTHE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)

America was still in the grips of The Great Depression in 1938, when Warner Brothers go-to swashbuckling hero Errol Flynn achieved superstar status with The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Oozing charisma, good humor, panache and swagger, Flynn’s Robin of Locksley captured not only the bravado of the character, but also the high-minded nobility of his fight against injustice, declaiming lines such as “Men, if you are willing to fight for our people, I want you!”.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is the only movie about the legend nominated for the best film Oscar. It also has a sensational supporting cast, including Olivia DeHaviland as Maid Marion and Basil Rathbone as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and great action set-pieces.

Normally, we’re resistant colorized versions — but for this one, the oversatured browns and greens seem just about perfect.

 iTunes      Amazon    Vudu