Zack Snyder is clearly a master of visuals, but look at 300 and Watchmen. The minimal plot of 300 was completely overshadowed by the masterful imagery and while those unfamiliar with the source material couldn’t quite understand Watchmen, there was no denying that the film was downright mesmerizing. Sadly, it looks as though Snyder has fallen into a similar trap with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. The film looks gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s also quite evident that he attempted to cram three books into just one film. The story itself is sloppy.
Based on the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s series, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole follows the adventures of a young owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess). All his life he’s enjoyed hearing his father’s (Hugo Weaving) stories about the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of owls dedicated to keeping peace throughout the owl kingdom. However, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) views his father’s stories as just that, tall tales. One day, while practicing a pre-flying technique called branching, both Soren and Kludd fall to the ground, a nightmare of a place for owlets. But before the creatures down below can get a hold of them, something else does, something far worse, the Pure Ones.
The Pure Ones take the brothers back to their lair where they enslave young owls, forcing some to work and others to train to become warriors. Kludd is instantly seen as a potential fighter, but when Soren attempts to defend a tiny elf owl, Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Soren is punished and assigned to be a picker, a worker that must pick through pellets to find special “flecks.” Eventually Gylfie and Soren see an opportunity to escape and take it and that’s when the real adventure begins. Their only hope of freeing the other owlets and stopping whatever scheme the Pure Ones have in the works is to find the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
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Since when did a barrage of bullets make a crime drama a winner? Hollywood might saturate our theaters with implausible film after film where heroes narrowly escape machinegun fire or every character unites for a grand final shootout, but apparently that hasn’t consumed the Australian film industry. In writer-director David Michod’ Animal Kingdom we get the genre antithesis, a film lacking action that builds its tension through smart writing, excellent performances and calculated pacing.
Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) is an armed robber in hiding, his brother Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) is making a killing selling drugs and the youngest, Darren (Luke Ford), is just along for the ride lending a hand when necessary. So is life in the Cody family, a well-known clan in the criminal underground of Melbourne, Australia. When the boys’ nephew, J (James Frencheville), loses his mother to a heroine overdose, their mother, Smurf (Jackie Weaver), brings him into their home and ultimately into their dangerous lifestyle. The Cody brothers and Pope’s longtime friend and partner, Baz (Joel Edgerton), help J assimilate, teaching him vital lessons, most importantly how to let others know who’s king.
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With Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Eat Pray Love and The Expendables all hitting theaters this weekend David Michod’sAnimal Kingdom has some serious competition. All three of those wide releases target different demographics. Scott Pilgrim will pull in the younger crowds, Eat Pray Love primarily woman and The Expendables all the guys craving action. However, Animal Kingdom can’t be assigned a specific category; it’s different and if you’re looking for something other than the typical summer blockbuster, it delivers big time.
Animal Kingdom is Michod’s very first feature film, but having gone to film school, written Hesher and directed a number of short films, he’s certainly no novice in the industry and it shows. The piece is about the Cody family, a family very well known in the Melbourne crime underworld. Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) is the oldest of three brothers, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) falls in the middle and Darren (Luke Ford) is the youngest. Baz (Joel Edgerton) is Pope’s partner and practically part of the family. Their mother Smurf (Jackie Weaver) is always busy watching over them and even agrees add another to the clan when her young nephew’s (James Frencheville) mother passes away. But when the Cody legacy begins to crumble, they’ve all got to reevaluate where they stand and try to survive while J just has to figure out where he belongs in this jungle.
Michod first began working on this story right after he finished film school and the time he’s put into it really paid off. But the script isn’t the only thing that required a significant amount of attention; there isn’t one element of Animal Kingdom that isn’t clearly well thought out, making the final product extremely effective. Check out what Michod had to say about every aspect of the filmmaking process from developing the script to casting the Codys, all the way down to the editing process.
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