Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 10: “Treasure”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 10: “Treasure”
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by T.J. Brady & Rasheed Newson

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Custody” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Leopard” – click here
Pic 1J (Finn Cole) finds grandma Smurf (Ellen Barkin) in his bed, drinking. She’s worried about who robbed her storage unit. Naturally, the kid’s nervous. He helped uncle Baz (Scott Speedman) break in, though he wasn’t the one who told him about it; Barry did that all on his own.
Speaking of him, he’s checking out the haul from Smurf’s safes. Quite the goddamn loot, too. From jewellery to stacks of bills, it’s impressive. This is one time Baz is truly off on his own. He and the other lads are in two different directions. While he’s robbing his adopted mom, Craig (Ben Robson) is heading up the next actual job. He’s still dragging Nicky (Molly Gordon) around while doing shady shit. They’ve got it all planned. But I keep seeing her winding up in handcuffs. Meanwhile, Renn (Christina Ochoa) turns up again, warning the young lady about Craig not being “worth the ride.” She’d know, she nearly died after overdosing and being left in the bathroom to die by him. My only fear, that I know is justified, is that Nicky won’t figure that out before it’s too late.
Pic 2At the bar, Pope (Shawn Hatosy) goes to see Deran (Jake Weary) before they’re supposed to get going on their end of the job’s preparations. He’s not happy, he doesn’t like that Marco (Joseph Julian Soria) and Nicky both – outsiders – are part of the job. And these are genuine, smart concerns.
The younger brother doesn’t see it as anything more than simple risk. He also believes they “owe” Craig. But, if you look at the dude’s track record he’s a junkie, one who’s caused the gang a good deal of nonsense. Remember the first we really saw a lot of Craig he got himself shot? Yeah.
J goes to see Baz, worrying about the Smurf trouble. Knowing he went back on his own after the kid was gone. Baz suddenly plays the family card, after usually keeping J at arm’s length. Now he’s ready to trust him. Hope the kid is up to the task. Playing in the rough game his uncles do is dangerous shit.
Then there’s Smurf, going off the deep end. She has a cattle prod, pumping the storage locker attendant full of voltage to get answers about what happened during the robbery. She discovers it was indeed Baz, that he was alone. She also shows the guy a picture of J, but he didn’t see him there. “Thank you,” Smurf says before heading back to the car. Where little Lena Roo (Aamya Deva Keroles) sits with headphones on. Lord, what a piece of work.
The Cody gang are now pirates. Heading out to jack a boat. Craig leads them on the job, acting more responsible than we’ve ever seen him. He isn’t exactly the hard, heavy handed leader that we see in his mother. I guess he’s trying, at least. He wants to be taken seriously by his brothers, to prove to Smurf he isn’t useless, either.
And Smurf, she’s plotting the next step in her conflict with Baz. The father, as usual, isn’t around to take care of his daughter. He’s actually watching the place. He heads inside after Smurf leaves, to find the gun stashed in the fridge. Shit, man. He’s really escalating this little war. Would he go so far as to implicate Smurf in something, or perhaps turn in evidence to drop the law on her? Whoooa, if so.
Out on the open sea, Craig plays his role as member of the staff. Pouring drinks, being polite and tending to the newly married couple celebrating. All is well. On the boat he rented under a fake ID, Nicky is practising her lines, then she calls out to the response of the US Coast Guard. A nice distraction while there’s trouble on the ocean elsewhere. Craig’s setting everything in motion, throwing lines over the side and heading down below to cut off the boat’s communications, the rest of the sabotage required.
Pic 3All the while Baz is taking a walk out to a hill in the middle of nowhere. Looks very familiar. Maybe like the place where Javi was shot in the head, buried. Is he going to dig up the body? Seems to have brought the right gear – a shovel, a suit to keep from getting anything on him. Oh, my. Baz… this is fucking intense, dude. He digs the body out, puts a bullet in the head with the gun from the fridge, then covers it all back up. Not what I expected exactly. Still wild.
Simultaneously Smurf is at his place, searching for anything at all. She looks everything, top to bottom. Wonder if she’ll come across anything. Barry was dumb enough to let himself be seen at the storage unit. What else did he forget?
The ship is stopping, just like Craig planned. Out on the smaller boat, Nicky fumbles around acting innocently dumb for the Coast Guard who are towing her back. Then we’ve got the rest of the boys, Sea-Dooing to the ship. They’ve even got clear, creepy masks! They zip tie the crew, Pope controls the captain and the bridge, as Deran looks after the crowd with Marco, using his Spanish speaking skills. Then Craig is used as a decoy, getting his face and ribs beat in by Pope and Marco; the latter seeming to pile on more than agreed.
Nevertheless, the job goes over after the money, the jewellery, everything’s collected. When one woman will not give over her ring, Marco cuts the finger off with the ring intact. Fuck, that is horrifying. This went from a robbery to a bit of torture. Craig seems fine with it. Glad they’ve got shit done. I only wonder how far the Cody gang is willing to go morally. Doesn’t sit well with Pope afterwards, though. Of all people!
Pic 4What’s with Baz spending up cash? He’s bought a car, a house for him and Lucy (Carolina Guerra). Well, the house is a place for him to stash all his earnings. As well as the massive haul from Smurf’s storage unit. Although I’m not sure if Lucy’s down. It semi-impresses, and also freaks her out, I think.
And J, my lord, J! He’s become such a jaded part of the gang. When Smurf asks if there were any problems on the latest job, he dumps the ring finger out on the table. Then watches her throw it down the garbage disposal with some bleach. Also, he took a picture of the loot on his phone. Yikes. Not a good idea, bro.
Later he goes to see an old friend, his previous neighbour Dina (Karen Malina White). They’re having a bit of dinner together, for old time’s sake; something they’ve been doing lately, apparently.  Then he goes to her bathroom. Under the sink, in a secret stash he hides some jewellery. Where there’s already several stacks of cash. Hmm. Maybe the kid’s planning not to be part of the Cody shit show much longer.
Celebrating at the bar, J gets closer to Nicky while Craig rails coke, Pope goes home for an early night, and Deran swipes around on Tinder until he finds a guy to fuck. All’s good in the land of the Codys. Although Pope isn’t actually gone home. He’s off to see Amy (Jennifer Landon), having grim visions of making love to her mixed with killing Catherine. He isn’t doing so hot after all. And J, he runs into uncle Deran giving a blowjob this time rather than getting one; no animosity anymore, since he’s come out of the closet. Oh, and Craig’s trying to get a second chance from Renn. A very tenuous, rocky one, but a second chance nonetheless.
Not to mention he asks Renn on a trip to Vegas. Maybe he’s turning a leaf. Or maybe he’s just finding other ways to be irresponsible.
Pic 5Now, Baz tells Lucy he wants to leave with her. Go to Mexico, move in her with her, her son, Lena. A happy little life, away from the family, and away from Smurf.
Goddamn. Is this the ultimate plan? To get Smurf put away, then take off down south of the border? Might be a good plan, if I didn’t think she was slippery enough to get out of it all unscathed. There’s no telling to what lengths she’ll go in order to save herself. And Baz might’ve been adopted by her, taken in from a terrible family.
But remember: he ain’t real family.
Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 12.19.31 AMWow, this was another intense slice of Animal Kingdom! A couple real interesting developments happening, from Nicky and J, as well as J and Deran sort of getting closer and less fist-to-fist, plus Pope’s mental state and now Baz v. Smurf. SO MUCH GOING DOWN. It’s unreal. Great Season 2, can’t wait to see how it closes out. We already know Season 3 is a go, that leaves me excited for how we’re going to head into a third outing. I’m feeling there’ll be a very suspenseful, suspicious, paranoid third season if things continue this route.
“The Leopard” is next week. Can hardly wait!

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Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 8: “Grace”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 8: “Grace”
Directed by Cherie Nowlan
Written by Megan Martin

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Dig” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Custody” – click here
Pic 1Pope (Shawn Hatosy) heads out late in the night, early in the morning. He seems on edge. What’s he doing? Where is he going? Back at Smurf’s (Ellen Barkin) place the weird vibes between J (Finn Cole) and Nicky (Molly Gordon) continue, as she’s still banging uncle Craig (Ben Robson). Plus, the girl finds out that “Javi cant come back” when she inquires about J’s gun. And the whole thing’s just… awkward, tense, strange.
Well, Pope is waiting for mom when she wakes up, watching as she sleeps. Creepy. She’s creepy, too. Naked under the sheets, calling her eldest boy in with just a sheet separating them to cuddle. Although he refuses; this time.
Pic 1AIn other news, Baz (Scott Speedman) worries about Smurf and her skimming. He makes the mistake of telling Lucy (Carolina Guerra), because the more people around him know the more they’re at risk. And everyone even near Smurf, or Pope, or Baz, are at risk, at all times. Doesn’t help that Lucy and Pope aren’t exactly friendly, either.
But he’s got issues with Baz, that’s where it all starts. I keep wondering when it’s all going to explode. He loves Baz as a brother, and there’s also a fucked up jealousy.
Deran (Jake Weary) is out of the closet, so he’s experiencing life as a gay man truly for the first time. Banging dudes without worrying. Even feels strange to him to get a compliment for fucking a guy well. I love him, he’s so innocent in a way in terms of his sexuality while simultaneously totally non-innocent in his life as a thief. The guy he’s with right now? It’s the dude from the local business owners meeting.
Pope’s still into Bible study with Amy (Jennifer Landon). During one of their studies the police arrive to speak with her, naturally worrying our man who’s acting so casual, so cool. Problem is the police are looking for Leon, an ex-con working with the church; he’s scared, not contacting them back. Looks like the boys’ robbery is putting others in harm’s way now. I continuously feel curious about whether he’ll be able to shoulder the weight of guilt throughout this whole ordeal, it’s always getting worse.
At the house, Smurf is making bullets, to help show J. She’s also contending with Baz’s prying, trying to keep him happy. And wondering about the self-destructive nature of Pope, how Baz can “take care” of him. Likewise she tells Baz: “I took you in because the minute I laid eyes on you I fell in love with you.” She’s trying to keep him close, close, close. As he keeps an eye on her, tracking her every move.
Pic 2 (1)Craig’s starting to scope out the next job on his own. Ingratiating himself to other employees of the company where he’s working. For a fuck up, the dude is charming. Very charming. And back in the garage, Smurf teaches her grandson to make “loads” for the gun, pressing their own bullets. Ah, family time! Grandma further works to pump him up again, to restore his confidence. She teaches him much more than just how to make a few bullets. They actually talk about his mom, as well. A rare occasion for Smurf, she obviously didn’t love her daughter the same as her sons, for many reasons.
We see a bit of the good in Pope, a glimmer of hope in his personality. He talks with Amy’s friend Leon, levelling with him about their time in prison, what it’s like to come out and deal with the real world. Seems the man’s got a drug problem. During the robbery, he was fixing on heroin. Doesn’t want his parole jammed up. So Pope suggests an alternative plan, to help the guy out. As well as to help out his own conscience from feeling worse.
Baz gets out to the storage place where Smurf’s got a stash. Since 2004. Whoa. That could mean she’s been skimming for quite a long time. He manages to bribe his way into finding the exact number of her locker. Using some shady gear to spy the safe inside.
When Pope arrives at his apartment later he’s got cops tossing his shit, some of the ones from the church. They’re suspicious, naturally. He plays it totally cool on the outside, a simmering anger inside and no doubt a fear of heading back to jail.
Pic 3But what does Pope do now? So much for that guilt, or that conscience. He plants a bit of evidence he still has kicking around on – you guessed it – Leon. What a low move, man. Just as I thought there was humanity left in him, he puts the frame on someone he doesn’t deserve it. You can tell it weighs on him, but what’s the good of a conscience when it does nothing, when it’s only a vestigial, useless psychological organ?
Smurf tries patching things up. She doesn’t “believe in sorry” so that means she hands over $20K to each of her boys, to make up for being such a control freak and ruining their collective trust. However, she requires something: she needs their cash, to launder through her business. Works both ways, though. Gets them a tax record. Choices to make for everyone. The trust isn’t quite there again, not yet.
Baz: “Thats a lot of free cash, man. What are you gonna do with it?”
J: “Nothings free, man.”
Now Baz is discovering there was a Confidential Informant file started on Catherine, by her cop friend Patrick. This is starting to lead our boy in quite a scary direction; scary for those who know more than they let on, who are involved more than anyone else knows.
Speaking of scary, I’m worried for Nicky, getting further into the family business with Craig pulling her in on the latest job. Not only that she’s trying to one up on J, to make him jealous. Scared this may lead someplace dark.
One nice bit? Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark) and Deran get together at his bar for a drink. They talk about life, where it’s headed for them both. Deran wants to buy the whole building where he has the bar, to “go legit” – Adrian wonders if his brothers will let him.
Closer and closer Baz comes to the truth. He believes Smurf will do anything, from stealing her boys’ money to having Baz’s wife killed. And expressing this sentiment to Pope isn’t the the smartest move. Little does he know.
Pic 4Pic 4AThis was a good episode because it didn’t have any wild action, or much of the thrilling robbery stuff. It worked well on a character development level, focusing on plot points headed our way in the near future. Specifically, we’re seeing more sides of Pope, more of his guilt, his lack of any morality, as well as Baz starting to discover more of Catherine’s disappearance. Where that leads could irreparably change the Cody gang and the Animal Kingdom series as a whole forever. “Custody” is next week, promising further intensity, as usual.

Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 5: “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 5: “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”
Directed by Laura Innes
Written by T.J. Brady & Rasheed Newson

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Broken Boards” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Cry Havoc” – click here
Pic 1J (Finn Cole) is learning to shoot, under the tutelage of a professional friend of Smurf’s (Ellen Barkin); they set him loose on a training course, the range. With grandma’s help, her physical and emotional closeness, J’s able to pop off the impressively aimed shots. Their relationship gets deeper, even while indulging in gun violence. Dangerous sort of thing.
Meanwhile, Deran (Jake Weary) is stealing a truck from the airport long term parking lot. He’s not quite a full-time business man just yet. At his place, Baz (Scott Speedman) is working on his own part of the latest job, though he gets a visit from Lucy (Carolina Guerra) out of the blue. He has $15K for her. Their relationship’s not one of stability, sort of all over the place. Certainly would be different if he knew exactly what happened to Catherine, at the hands of his adopted brother Pope (Shawn Hatosy).
Speak of the devil, he’s half paying attention to the church and all it entails, including Amy (Jennifer Landon), half paying attention to their coming robbery. He and Amy are getting closer all the time. She’s got her own demons, though as I’ve mentioned before despite how bad they are they’re not AS bad as the ones lurking within Pope. Either way they’re propelled into each other’s arms. I wonder, will this cause him to mess up on the job? Or perhaps change his mind? One thing I do love about his character, it’s hard to predict what he’ll do from one moment to the next.
Amy: “You might have a special reward coming your way tonight
Pic 1AEverybody’s doing their thing and managing to keep their eye on the job, their little side things. At least for now. Craig (Ben Robson) isn’t as keen on J’s involvement as the others, even after quitting the job. He’s being a big “baby about it.” So Deran calls him out. And let’s face it, Craig IS a piece of shit.
J and Nicky (Molly Gordon) are still flirting around one another, both living at Smurf’s place. Grandma has her own worries, as well. A couple men jump out of a plumbing van and pull her inside. Kidnapped, like that! Shit. But don’t put her out, she’s a tough fuck. She taunts her captors, acting nonchalant about the whole ordeal.
The boys are at home, plotting for the job. Pope confirms the times, during which Baz and J will be waiting in the ducts. “You do not kill anyone,” Baz explains to the kid. Yet uncle Pope reminds him, if it’s necessary, it’s necessary.
Smurf is brought to Javier (Alex Meraz), he asks about Community South. A job she did with his dad. Says he ran off with the cash. Javi says she killed him. He wants “$300 grand in cash” within twenty-four hours. Or else tapes concerning the dark history of Smurf land in the hands of the cops. So, does she have a plan? I don’t think she has $300K lying around, not cash on hand. Might make her do something… stupid.
Pic 2At the house, Craig whines about not being on the latest job, although he quit. Nicky talks truth to him. And he’s too immature to take it serious. Doesn’t want advice from a teenager, doesn’t mind fucking one, either. Idiot. That relationship is going to cause a rough situation at some point. If they follow the film’s plot, it’ll be particularly tragic.
In the church service, Baz and J fit in, as does Pope acting as if he belongs there alongside Amy; in a way, he almost looks like he does. All appears set for the job to get underway. I’m always interested to see Baz and J together, because I keep wondering if he’s father to the kid. There’s always that thought in the back of my mind. When the collection plate passes by, they slip a bit in. Stuff they’ll get back soon.
Is it coincidence the church has raised about $335,000? Makes me curious. When Smurf needs just shy of that to take care of her debt. Perhaps we’ll witness a brutal divide between her and the boys brought on by her robbing THEM? I don’t know. Just a thought. She’ll do anything as it is, let alone when jail time is on the line. And serious fucking time, too.
Baz and J head for the bathrooms, as Pope goes for Bible study. When the hall is clear, the pair head into the ducts and Pope seals them inside before heading back to his little group. Thus begins the next phase of the robbery. They head further into the ducts, outside the building Deran stands watch. Pope has to stall, talking with Amy about the possible sex she suggested earlier. Sly, dude. Then he slips back to make sure the lock on the door is jammed. Game, set, match; right?
Drunk, Craig shows up in front where Deran is waiting. The two of them get into an argument. Also, in the vents, J scrapes himself deep on a metal edge; uh oh. If that leaves blood they’re fucked. At the same time, Deran causes a distraction outside, in between his fighting with his brother. Baz realises J’s bleeding, the metal dug into his leg. He rips the kid free, using duct tape to cover the wound. Only problem I’m curious about is, when J was helping the cops for that brief time, did they put him in their database in terms of DNA? If not, that’s no problem. I just keep feeling that bad things are headed for the Cody gang. In many, many ways. Certainly, in many ways, the bad things are already here.
Pic 3These dudes are sophisticated, using every modern technique at their disposal. Deran keeps an eye on the situation outside with the security guard, while J and Baz get themselves into the safe under the floor. They certainly leave behind a mess, between the soundproofing foam they spray to drops of J’s blood in the ducts. But, for the time being, our boys are off with another bit of money, another heist in the books. They try continually dropping the safe from a crane to break the locking mechanisms. Soon, they do, and they find bags filled with cash. An actual heist that was worth the effort.
Then there’s Craig, hammered and high on cocaine, flying through traffic on his bike. He whizzes through traffic, down to the beach. Then wipes out in the sand. Lucky he’s alive, really.
Celebrating the robbery, the boys also have a look at J’s leg. It isn’t good. They can’t take him to a hospital, either. It’s “staple gun” or “cauterise the wound” and J goes with the former. Uncle Deran holds him down while Baz closes the wound. He’s a tough enough lad. To which Deran responds warmly: “Welcome to the family.”
Pope and Amy wind up at her place. Naked. She asks him to touch himself. They move closer, nearly touching. Almost more sexual than anything they could’ve done. This relationship is massively interesting to me. I keep wondering how it’ll play out. I keep wondering if Pope can have true intimacy, after what’s gone on between him and Smurf.
Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.21.33 AMOn the beach where he crashed, Craig is found, unconscious, fucked up. Simultaneously, Nick helps poor J tend to his nasty wound. And fresh off a hitch hiking journey, Smurf makes it home with serious regrets from the past. All ain’t well.
Smurf (to J): “Once you decide to shoot, you keep shooting. You understand me?”
“Cry Havoc” is the next episode. We’re about to see fallout from the church robbery, as Pope falls deeper in love with Amy, into their intimate relationship. And we’re also going to see what Smurf chooses to do about her serious situation involving Javi.

Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 4: “Broken Boards”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 4: “Broken Boards”
Directed by Emmy Rossum
Written by Etan Frankel

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Bleed for It” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” – click here
Pic 1An unusual thing for Smurf (Ellen Barkin), being alone in that big house. All her boys except for J (Finn Cole) having left, and even he’s teetering. But while he’s out at the crack of dawn working hard to stay fit, she’s at the house pulling a gun on the darkness. And of course Nicky (Molly Gordon) is still there, too. Awkward. She acts like it’s no big deal, though you can tell it weirds him out. Not as much as he should be unsettled by his grandma’s tightening grip.
Meanwhile, Baz (Scott Speedman) is figuring out the gang’s matriarch changed all the codes, security, bank, otherwise. Deran (Jake Weary) is working on getting his bar ready to open, he has to refuse underage Nicky coming even with Craig (Ben Robson) whining. Trouble’s brewing between that couple, has been for a while. The new bartender might speed all that along.
And Pope (Shawn Hatosy), oh Pope… if he weren’t a murderer, I’d genuinely feel for him. He’s a fish out of water, coming out of Folsom and into the world, especially the world of the Cody gang, he can’t even really live life correctly. He and Amy (Jennifer Landon) are going out on a first date, so he ends up getting matched for a lavender shit that goes well with his “skin tone” according to a saleswoman. Seeing him in a store, picking out a proper shirt, so jarring in a humorous way.
Pic 1AAfter letting slip about Deran’s bar to Smurf, Nicky says “sex and drugs” are the only way she relates to Craig, they don’t truly love one another. Even though she acts as if she does. She’s more in for the romanticised version of Craig, the tough thief who likes to fuck and has blow all the time.
Smurf gives her this piece of advice: “Do you have any idea how powerful you are? Yknow what that power is? Its the one thing you have that every man wants. You just have to let them think they have the power. But they never do. Ever. Unless you give it to them. And dont ever give it to them.”
On the latest job, J offers to help the gang when Deran isn’t there. The boys gear up, putting together a length of air ducts, hose and all. Into which J and Craig are cramped until the heist is ready to go. Baz mainly wants the kid in on it because he knows about J pulling a job with Smurf, worrying she has her hooks in deep already.
Deran’s busy telling mom about the bar. It’s a tense conversation. Although it ends with him inviting her to the opening. She agrees. However, I’ve got to wonder: is she going to do something, make a scene? Can’t help thinking she’ll be compelled to nastiness, lashing out in anger at one of her boys branching out on his own. She’s already being vindictive with Baz, about the code to their storage unit where he’s got his tools. She’d go to any length to make herself feel better. Actually starts turning him slightly against the others, using his status as outsider to fuel his paranoia.
Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 1.24.02 AMCraig’s always thinking with a criminal mind. He steals a beer truck on a whim from a store while the driver carts a load inside. It’s like he unconsciously needs to fuck up his brother’s new business, ’cause you know that’s where he’s headed with the beer. When he does bring it to the bar Deran refuses to take it, he doesn’t want anything to ruin this venture. He’s serious about making a change, separating this business from the thievery of his family. Above all, separating himself from his mother.
Amy and Pope are bonding, particularly after she revealed to him the situation with her son, the mistakes she’s made, what brought her to God. He wonders how she “lives with herself” because he wants to know how he can live with himself, as well. After all he’s done. Despite her situation, it isn’t the same or as dark as Pope’s sins. Not even close.
Baz calls the boys out to the beach. He apologises for his “bullshit.” He wants the old days again, when they were close, hanging out, loving life together. So, what’s the plan? A bit of extreme fun. You know how the lads get down! They climb a massive crane over the shore, jumping stories to the waves below. A nice, quick thrill before beers. Baz even says he’ll do the “shit work” and get in the duct for the next job, proving he isn’t like Smurf.
At the same time across town, Smurf takes J up to see a nice apartment she owns. A beautiful loft looking out over the ocean. Janice Brown owns the place, actually. Among other fake tenants who own other apartments, so on and so on. Money laundering. Looks like grandma wants to start bringing J into the fold with her, pulling him away from the others. She’s letting him on everything behind the family business. Almost grooming. She wants him to help with the books, unlike any of her boys.
Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 1.40.48 AMThe bar is starting to get going, people pile in. Smurf heads out, but on the way feels like a small plumbing van is following her. She readies a gun, just in case. But off they go. Why so paranoid? Is she waiting for somebody to come?
Baz and Pope both head down to the bar, along with a crowd of surfers and others. Deran says he’s named the place The Drop from now on. And then Smurf arrives, a look of disbelief on her face, tender words for her baby. Not so nice chat for Baz, though. “Were never cominback, Smurf,” he replies. She replies: “I didnt ask you to.”
More tension when Deran finds Craig snorting cocaine with people in the bathroom. He kicks them out, throws the coke away, prompting a brief fight. We’re seeing so many different fractures, the various relationships. Craig is probably the biggest piece of shit out of them all, purposefully acting like an idiot.
Then a familiar face shows up – Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark). Long time, no see. You can see Deran lights up when he comes to the bar. Truly hope these two will get together again. Now that he’s trying to get away from Smurf. And LAAAWD is she ever making it easy to hate her, telling an embarrassing story about his failed dreams of surfing in front of the bar. God, it’s brutal to watch.
Smurf: “So heres to the runt of my litter, my beautiful baby boyto Deran.”
He confronts his mother afterwards Admitting to her he’s gay. Then the real harsh truth comes out. Does she like having the boys around because she, deep down, wants them sexually? Clearly there’s a strange connection with Pope, something happened there. Now Deran wonders if she never loved him because he can’t fuck her.
YIKES! We knew this possibility of incest was all a part of the Cody family. Just hearing it aloud in this scene is… compellingly disturbing.
Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 1.52.37 AMFunny how the one to comfort Deran, after all that’s gone on in this episode, is Craig. Maybe he’s not a piece of shit, merely unaware of his idiocy and the kind who tries making up for it later. He and his brother take the broken boards the surfers brought in and put them up on the wall, still close, even if the fractures are starting to split the Codys to pieces slowly.
Great episode! My favourite so far this season. Disturbing, also touching and emotional in a way. Pushes a lot of things forward. Love that Emmy Rossum directed it, too. She’s fantastic, as an actress and a director. “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” is next week.

Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 1: “Eat What You Kill”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 1: “Eat What You Kill”
Directed by Christopher Chulack
Written by Jonathan Lisco

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “What Have You Done?” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Karma” – click here
Pic 1The boys (and mom) are back in town! Season 2, baby.
No telling where things are headed, after Pope (Shawn Hatosy) did the unthinkable to Catherine, leaving Baz (Scott Speedman) to wonder where she’s gone. Little Lena (Aamya Deva Keroles) is the only one who knows for sure. Well, except for that eerie connection between Mama Smurf (Ellen Barkin) and her boy Pope, that provides another tense side of the entire relationship between Baz and the Codys and everything in between.
Speaking of Smurf, she’s been drinking a lot, so it seems. Waking up to a drink isn’t healthy. Meanwhile, her boys – Pope, Craig (Ben Robson), Deran (Jake Weary), and the newest addition Josh (Finn Cole) – and Baz are out doing what they do best: cheat, rob, steal; in no particular order.
Of course J’s been fully indoctrinated. He is a Cody, through and through. It’s troubling. Because these aren’t honest, Robin Hood-type thieves. Smurf is a damaged and dangerous person, as is her son Pope. Although that’s probably much to do with her own… predilections. And as Pope’s mental state worsens, his actions becoming more desperate as the end of Season 1 proved, it’s tough to see a young man like J – a mostly good person – become wrapped up in his family’s brutality. Question is, will he escape it, or will the Codys swallow him whole?
On their latest job, the Cody boys and Baz do a ton of work only to come out with a couple small stacks of cash; barely $500. Yet at home awaits mother with her pie, their family ritual after a robbery. So surreal, how they sit around and chat after a major crime. But things are deteriorating, between Pope and his dark headspace, and Smurf getting fucking hammered as she leads the clan. Mom and her oldest boy are especially having issues. Wonder how that’ll pan out re: Pope’s nasty little secret. Baz tries cooling everyone down, though I don’t know how well his word will stand.
Pic 1ADeran’s got a $50K deal, meeting a woman in a small bar where he hands over an envelope of cash. Not all of the agreed price, naturally. Their recent short-changed job didn’t do him any favours. So, is Deran trying to go straight? Is he making an investment in that bar, or another place? I think he’s trying his best to get out from under Smurf.
Crazy, crazy Pope, he goes out to the place in the desert where he buried Catherine. His psyche is damaged, and it was long before. By killing the woman he loved, something altogether new is happening to him. And for the first time in his life it’s as if he’s feeling genuine guilt, remorse, rather than floating through life like he does usually devoid of emotion.
At a family meeting, Baz leads the charge to try changing things with Smurf, to lessen her iron grip on their gang. She’s drunk and takes it personally. She uses failures from the past, recent and long ago, to bite back at them. Including taking Baz in from his horrible father. Things explode eventually, as he can’t take it anymore. None of them can.
Craig: “No more suckinmommys dick!”
Everyone’s wondering what to do with J. On one hand, Deran suggests he and Craig out to bring the kid in while he’s confused, torn across the family. Maybe Deran’s concern is for his own secret, worrying J will out him. On the other hand, Pope and Baz have their own feelings about him, whether he’s trustworthy.
Smurf gets a visit about her payments to Manny – $5,000 a month. Or, so she thinks. Apparently he’s dying and Smurf has to go pay respects. She refuses to leave. We discover more and more about the Cody matriarch, her well of young men runs deep and there’s so many questions about the destruction she’s caused through her lifetime. Curiouser and curiouser.
Pic 2Turns out that Deran IS looking to buy up the bar. He wants to take over the lease, after the owner died and left his wife with the place. At least, despite his own flaws, the guy has plans outside of robbery for his life. And at home with Smurf, J is trying to figure out his own life. He’s conflicted, about everything. Likewise, he’s complicit in everything in which the Cody family is involved.
What we do see is who Smurf starts favouring. Earlier, Craig’s credit card – paid by mom – is cut off, and Deran, too. But now she’s given J his own card. I worry that either on purpose or inadvertently, she’s going to put him in a bad position with the uncles.
And what about Nicky (Molly Gordon)? She and Craig have been an item all this time. He’s not loving it, though. The difference in age is apparent, yet is it? He’s still depending on mom, she’s still in high school and living on the whim of her father. However, there’s absolutely trouble coming from this end. If the film Animal Kingdom is any indication, and they stick to the character arc where Nicky ended up, she is headed somewhere grim.
Latest Cody robbery? Possibly a yacht job. They’re all on different pages, each pairing’s got their own ideas – Pope and Baz against Deran and Craig. Then, we still have poor Baz going off the rails, yelling at his own daughter, his head too caught up in making money to pay attention to his own blood. And Pope, he makes what amends he can by showing the little girl some attention. Even Deran and Craig at odds, the latter sniffing coke making things even more unstable.
Still, they all go back to Smurf’s house for supper. Despite their relative silence, everyone reaches for a toast: “May we all get what we want, and never what we deserve.” Things aren’t as bad as they seemed before. Mom acts fine with their new efforts to be more independent. When Pope has the chance, he warns J about getting too close to her.
Pic 3A fantastic, low key episode to start Season 2. I’m super curious about Manny, his connection and importance to Smurf, as well as Javier (Alex Meraz), whose history with her clearly goes back a long way. Lots of stuff to mull over! Great start to this new season.
Next episode is “Karma” and I’m hoping to see more of the Cody family problems create tension as time goes by. I wonder who’ll be the first to meet a tragic end? Y’know it’s brewing.

Banshee – Season 3, Episode 7: “You Can’t Hide From the Dead”

Cinemax’s Banshee
Season 3, Episode 7: “You Can’t Hide From the Dead”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Christopher Kelley

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “We Were All Someone Else Yesterday” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “All the Wisdom I Got Left” – click here
Pic 1Poor Hood (Antony Starr) is plagued by memories of Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn), neck snapped at the hands of Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers). Looking through mounds of papers Hood only wants to track the man down and put an end to all the brutality.
At the same time, Chayton’s lying in a barn with bullets in him, bleeding, trying to stay alive after his recent brush with the law. He hallucinates a bit, too. Not exactly able to reconcile the life he’s recently taken with the scope of his mission.
Pic 1ABusy watching her new dude friend fist fight, Deva (Ryann Shane) is definitely not in a good place. Both figuratively and literally. She’s hanging with a nasty crowd, and enjoys it thoroughly. Not easy to deal with for Carrie (Ivana Milicevic) and Gordon (Rus Blackwell), that’s for sure.
Hood gets a visit from Aimee King (Meaghan Rath), who feels sorry for not stopping Chayton when she had the chance, though he assuages her guilt, knowing it isn’t easy to forget “all that history” in a single second with someone at the end of the gun’s barrel. Meanwhile, Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison) are doing their thing, the former working on some voice recognition for their planned, upcoming military heist. He’s having a slight bit of trouble, but y’know, Job is slick.
At the funeral of his mother Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) arrives, surprising all. Instead of rejection, he receives opens arms from his father. They sit and listen to the priest speak over the body. Then there’s Rebecca (Lili Simmons), the resent trouble with her uncle. She’s not exactly playing nice, nor is he. She meets with Hector Morales (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), outside her uncle’s purview. Hmm, that’ll definitely mean trouble. One way or another. She makes a deal, using her own mental muscle to get things going for herself. Rebecca don’t play, she can hang with the gangsters.
While Hood is working out his issues, Job is keeping an eye on the military compound. “With all due respect we should all be a little worried,” Job tells his friend. He worries about the faux-sheriff’s state of mind, plus what that means for everyone around him. Hood wants to do their job tonight, and it doesn’t sit well with Job.
Pic 2When Lisa Marie (Susan Misner) checks on her barn she finds Chayton bleeding. He passes out while ordering her around, so she decides to help him in a time of physical trauma. She patches him up, as she would any other person. Despite that everything goes sideways when a neighbour turns up, getting stabbed with a pitchfork by Chayton for his trouble.
Carrie and Gordon find out where Deva’s been hanging with all those fighters and the rest of their wild crowd. The parents want their daughter to leave, but Deva’s new friends aren’t so keen on letting them go. This shows off Carrie and Gordon as a fighting team, both adept at kicking ass. The husband-wife team take on all comers. Best is Carrie – we get to see her kick the living shit out of three dudes, effortlessly. While Gordon gets to lay a beating on the greaser trying to bang his daughter. When dude pulls a gun dad dares him to use it, which he won’t. And the family walks away together.
Although they aren’t together, for real, Gordon and Carrie hook up after their crazy afternoon. But there’s still a flame for them, which is difficult. Carrie is hauled in two different directions, more than that really because of all the conflicts in her new life v. the old one.
Over at Sugar’s bar the crew are getting ready for the first steps of their latest robbery. No one, other than Hood, is too confident, though they’ve got the gusto. So they’re off, but will it go smoothly? Not everything goes entirely as planned. They get going well enough. A nice First Person Shooter view takes us through their respective cameras they wear. All Job’s gadgets work, allowing them entrance to the vault, and Sugar keeps an eye on the hacked cameras throughout the facility, as well as all the crew’s cameras. Hood, he starts having one of his Siobhan hallucinations, seeing her everywhere. Simultaneously, Job gets attacked by a soldier, going one on one, hand to fist. After too long Hood snaps out of it and goes running to help his old pal. His guilt laden brain nearly caused a lot of shit.
On their way out, the crew has to make sure Colonel Stowe (Langley Kirkwood) and his men don’t lock them down, after the military discovers someone’s got them under siege. This causes Hood and Co – mostly Hood – to make noise, leading to a gunfight.
Everyone makes it back to the vehicle. Not before Hood winds up in a close confrontation with Stowe who nearly takes him down. They blow the bomb set in the tunnel, and Hood uses the smoke to escape nearly getting himself killed in the process. Stowe gets up in the vehicle with them and almost gets the upper hand. But they manage to toss him outside, speeding away. Close fucking call.
Pic 3The memory of Siobhan is everywhere. Even Deputy Brock (Matt Servitto) mourns her loss with great grief. Wanting Chayton to pay badly. Worse is the fact her memory lingering with Hood almost got them all caught, or killed. After their mission’s complete Job is not happy with the way things went, and Hood.. well, he’s still having visions. They won’t likely stop any time soon. At least he now knows more from Aimee on Chayton, the big obstacle in his existential way; the big man’s also killed the woman who helped him in her barn. Nasty.
It’s Brock and Hood on a road trip to New Orleans. Should be fun.
Pic 4Love this episode, because it’s one of the first big divides between Job and Hood which actually comes with consequence. This leads into some serious action and ramifications for them all. Next episode is “All the Wisdom I Got Left” and there’s plenty of intensity left to reveal in this season. The scene after the credits shows Stowe’s unstable headspace in a frightening few moments. He’s insane.

HELL OR HIGH WATER: Desperation and Death in the Dirty South

Hell or High Water. 2016. Directed by David Mackenzie. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Dale Dickey, William Sterchi, Gil Birmingham, Buck Taylor, Kristin Berg, & Katy Mixon.
Film 44/OddLot Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Western

★★★★★
posterDisclaimer: This review may contain several spoilers concerning the film’s finale.

The prospect of David Mackenzie (director of the phenomenal jail film Starred Up) and Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale on Sons of Anarchy and screenwriter of Sicario) making a film together is enough to get me on board. They’re each talented. After both the aforementioned movies it’s not hard to get excited – Starred Up is one of my favourite prison stories out there and Mackenzie’s directing helped the actors shine; Sicario comes at you like a shot in the night, written with depth by Sheridan.
Post-2000, the Western has seen a comeback. Not that every really went anywhere, but it’s definitely not as popular as it was in the 1950s and 60s when cinema saw everything from High Noon to Shane to The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy.
But over the past 15 years or so we’ve seen films like The Proposition, The Three Burials of Melquiades EstradaNo Country for Old Men, the excellent Elmore Leonard television adaptation, FX’s Justified. Most recently there was Bone Tomahawk, and you can’t forget Tarantino and his Western-styled Django Unchained, as well as The Hateful Eight.
Much as I love all these more contemporary Westerns, and as much as I consider a couple of them genuine masterpieces, none of them capture the modern spirit while paying homage to the classic Western feel, characters, and plots. Perhaps it’s the past couple years especially, one thing’s for sure – Hell or High Water epitomises the economic struggle of people clinging to old ways of life in a world moving further into modernity every minute, for better or worse.
pic1Throughout the film there’s a pervasive sense of desperation. The seriousness yet amateurish execution of the brothers and their robbery(/robberies) is quickly made evident. Both Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are complicit in their crimes, although the former is crazier, a little less predictable. Toby wants to secure a future for his boys. Tanner’s already been to prison, he has nothing left to lose and only money to gain. So the desperation is different between the brothers.
Another part of the story involves how, in some places like little rural towns, not-so-subtle racism is rampant. There are a bunch of perfect instances of this at various points. “Theyre not even Mexicans,” an old man says as one bank is robbed by the Howards. When ole Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges at possibly his greatest; that’s saying something) questions people on the robbery he leads with they must’ve been “Mexican, black” and later Hamilton even says to his own partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) that he knows “how you injuns like the bottle.” Hamilton represents that weird dichotomous supposed Southern gentleman who’s borderline to full-on racist at any given moment, yet a guy who’ll stand with a slight bow for a lady. There’s a lot of good writing from Sheridan, who seems intent on showing Texas in all its glory, whether that’s good or bad depends on the moment. But it’s warts and all, which makes everything feel right in place.
pic2On a technical level, Hell or High Water is beyond fantastic. The cinematography helps show a small town in an economic slump, its slightly desolate sense of atmosphere, from which the desperate characters reach out to us begging for understanding. The look of the film is simultaneously gorgeous and full of grit, a perfect combination somewhere in the middle of the two. Then there’s the score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who coincidentally did the score for another masterpiece Western (The Proposition). Their sound is perfect for the tone of the film and lifts many a scene, lending gravitas to even the tiniest of moments.
Again, I have to praise Sheridan. He writes the action well, opting not to go for all guns and chaos and instead focusing most on the characters to give us the impact necessary. Moreover, the dialogue’s the fresh kind. Not afraid to feel informal, personal, as well as the fact it’s funny at times and also deadly serious where necessary. Above all else, the Howards feel like actual brothers, Hamilton is a true old school Southern man. There’s a spectacular true to life concealed carry gunfight in one of the banks, followed by other Texans with guns waiting outside; sort of perfect, on the nose representation of how an actual robbery in the South could go down. Just all around awesome stuff continuing the screenwriting roll Sheridan is on as of late.
Tanner: “Only assholes drink Mr. Pep
Toby: “Drink up
On display in the screenplay is that dying Southern ideology of pretending racism is all in good fun, jokes and stuff, when really the laughs are only a cover for the true prejudice hiding underneath. This is clear through the tenuous partner-to-partner relationship between Marcus and Alberto, which flares up now and then getting fairly serious from time to time. Further than that, it’s tragically funny and at once awful that the cops blame blacks and Mexicans for so much crime when it’s actually two dirty white boys running around committing crimes. Classism is also there, as the two dirty white boys, like so many immigrants, are only trying to keep themselves from being fucked over ultimately by the banks and bullshit bureaucratic policy that affects the most vulnerable. In the end, it’s the elusive American Dream that’s always knocking at the door, increasing the desperation of cops and criminals alike.
pic3This is a downright incredible Western, such a great contemporary take on the genre. Hell or High Water seems standard until the tail end when the brothers’ plight opens up story wise, revealing a few things that make the film’s final ten minutes one mighty treat to chew on: “Im the man who killed your brother,” as if ripped from an old Gary Cooper flick or something with John Wayne.
All three of the leads – Bridges, Foster, Pine – are impossibly perfect in their respective roles. Bridges, whose characters feel more good ole boy than Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men and thrice as grizzled, gives one of the best performances of his career. He shines as a man who’s well cemented in leading roles yet also has the makings of an impeccable character actor. The little things about Marcus Hamilton make him enjoyable, even as you hate him.
A 5-star bit of cinema, one of the best contemporary Westerns out there; if not the best in the past couple decades. I can’t for more directorial efforts from Mackenzie, proving himself double after this and Starred Up. And if Taylor Sheridan keeps producing the work he’s been pumping out in the last couple years, he’s bound to give us lots more to enjoy.

THE NEIGHBOR: A Horrifying Slice of Rural Terror

The Neighbor. 2016. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Alex Essoe, Bill Engvall, Luke Edwards, Jacqueline Fleming, & Ronnie Gene Blevins.
Fortress Features/Salt Company International/The See.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterI was a big fan of both The Collector and The Collection, even with their flaws. They weren’t great movies, though to me they were still fine fun. Marcus Dunstan is an interesting director, along with his writing partner Patrick Melton. They have a knack for a certain brand of horror. One that’s part home invasion, part serial killer. 
The Neighbor
again tackles a man with a secret, or should I say men with secrets. With their best writing yet, Dunstan and Melton come out with a sly, genius little crime-thriller that dives frequently into pure horror. From the opening old school-feeling credits to the last frame there’s a tension verging on relentlessness. Most of all, the writing is subversive at times from plot to character, and the casting is absolutely perfect. Josh Stewart returns with Dunstan in a solid performance, as John, an unlucky character similar (but different from) the one he played in The Collector. Alex Essoe, whose turn in Starry Eyes is unforgettable, is Rosie; the would-be damsel in distress emerging as a strong, unflappable female character in a hideous male world. Finally, and most surprising, Bill Engvall plays the titular neighbour and boy… is he something. Never could I expect what he brings to the table.
My elaborately stated point? The Neighbor is excellent, one of the better horror-thrillers in the last few years. It doesn’t have to be anything epic or overly contrived. The film’s modesty is one of its greatest qualities.
pic1The most enjoyable aspect of the writing is how Dunstan and Melton allow us time to stay with the characters – a lot of time – before the horror breaks out. Movies such as slashers, or any other sub-genre where characters get offed one after another, tend to quickly jam a bunch of character development into a short space of time. Often that leads to underdeveloped or poorly developed character(s). Dunstan and Melton give us about a third of the film to get a feel for the relationship between John (Stewart) and Rosie (Essoe). We only get a glimpse of Troy (Engvall) before he becomes a larger, more sinister part of the plot. While we get to know the couple at the centre of the story, the film plays as a crime-thriller for the first half hour. Afterwards, the horror shifts into gear and descends fast into terror, as the connection to these people is real. In stark opposition to so many modern horror movies with disposable characters, The Neighbor allows us a better connection, a genuine one, instead of something tenuous. You care about John and Rosie, you want them to get out from under the former’s uncle, a local criminal named Neil (played fabulously by Skip Sudduth). As if that’s their biggest worry. Troy presents them with far greater danger, so the concern for their safety and well-being gets wildly tense, dreadfully suspenseful. If the writing weren’t good enough, the actors all pull the weight, above and beyond. Stewart and Essoe do wonderful work. But Engvall is the main attraction. His unlikeliness for most of us will prove to be powerful. He threw me for a loop, even in the earliest scenes where his character hasn’t yet revealed itself to the fullest; he’s nonchalant, a down home-type. Later on this flips into underestimated madness of the best sort.
pic2Better than usual female character in the form of Essoe’s Rosie. Two strong performances out of the male leads, Stewart and Engvall. Overall interesting writing, which compels you to keep on watching with a curious eye. If that were all, the film would succeed.
Luckily, there’s more.
Charlie Clouser is back, having worked with Dunstan on The Collection providing killer sounds for the score. As usual, he composes beautifully in a dark manner. At times, his pieces are a steady, driving rhythm. During others, an eerily Southern sound early on, as guitars invade the score. After time continues wearing on and the tension gets brutal, Clouser’s music is deeper, more intense. Always working under your skin, beneath the visuals. Sometimes a score can really overpower the scene in which it plays, sometimes it’s the exact opposite and the music doesn’t seem to do anything for the scene. Here, neither of those is the case. Each composition is better than the last, and many scenes feel driven by its pulsing, heartbeat-like darkness. A great bit of music can lift everything up. Perhaps why Dunstan and Clouser work well together.
Paired with the music, the shadowy look of the cinematography, much like The Collector in particular, is perfect. Makes you feel boxed in like the characters, enclosed in a small space where anything is possible and every next turn might prove fatal. The sequence where John finds his way into Troy’s house, down to the cellar is a masterful, uneasy scene that takes us over the crime-thriller threshold and into the screenplay’s horror. Later on the “This is your proof of life” moment is eerie as hell. Also, the bits of old footage that are edited throughout the first part of the film almost transform into the tapes Troy and his boys are recording in the basement. This comes off as an especially unsettling technique, giving an omnipresent feel to those earlier bits of edited footage.
pic3I have to say, this is a nearly perfect horror to me. There’s a great mixing of genres, which comes out magically in the characters and helps the plot feel unexpected. You’re never quite sure exactly what will come next. The actors are all spot on, even Skip Sudduth in his small role; very intimidating, cruel, even for a man hooked to an oxygen tank. Essoe, Stewart, and Engvall are each cast to awesome effect. While the build up feels long, maybe slow during certain scenes, it’s all worth the wait. In the last 20 minutes, the action and intensity are frantic. This amps up in the final ten, as well.
Not everybody will love The Neighbor. I understand. That’s why art in general is so fun; we don’t all have to enjoy the same things. But to me it’s undeniably clear how well this screenplay is put together. On top of that the execution on every end is honed to a fine, sharp point. Dunstan and Melton are writers to watch. I hope they continue to work together, and to use their talents in making more worthwhile horror. In a day and age where people complain about the same old thing in the genre, The Neighbor is at least trying to be different by working harder than most other films to be more than the sum of its parts.

Animal Kingdom – Season 1, Episode 3: “Stay Close, Stick Together”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 3: “Stay Close, Stick Together”
Directed by Christopher Chulack
Written by Eliza Clark

* For a review of the previous episode, “We Don’t Hurt People” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Dead to Me” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 10.59.05 AM
With all the lies, all the secrets floating around, can Josh Cody (Finn Cole) manage to keep his head above water? Can he survive his own family?
Pope (Shawn Hatosy) is out fishing, gutting and skinning some sharks. He receives a visit from an old friend wanting to a do a job. Then we find out that this guy thinks Pope is with Catherine (Daniella Alonso), and that they have a baby together. So, could the baby actually be Pope’s child, or is that merely his ego, telling people this or that, lying? Hard to tell. Either way, it weighs heavy on Pope.
Then there’s Josh who seems constantly plagued by the strain of his family. He even has to steal back the gold watch he gave Nicky (Molly Gordon). Heading out from her place he runs into Nicky’s father, Navy Lieutenant Commander Paul Belmont (C. Thomas Howell). Not good. Yet the father doesn’t go too hard. He’s fairly lenient, most of all concerned about how his daughter’s doing.
Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.02.19 AM
Baz (Scott Speedman) and his Mexican girlfriend bang while Craig (Ben Robson) is being fixed up. This is not a good side to Baz. I hoped there was an inherently good part of him compared to the others. Not quite.
Back at home, in America, Smurf (Ellen Barkin) is looking after Catherine’s daughter and asking Josh whether he’s having sex with Nicky. “Does she satisfy you?” asks grandma. The closeness of the Cody family is wonderfully creepy. You sense that Smurf loves her boys, but there’s an overprotective quality that borders on inappropriate. This was always alluded to in the original film, as Smurf had a penchant for kissing her boys right on the mouth, even as grown men. Here, Barkin’s crack at the character goes deeper into that element, and we start to see how she’s the criminal glue holding these boys together. As well as tearing them apart at times.
Pope isn’t feeling well lately. Probably because mom is slipping him anti-depressants or something else into the food he’s eating. Moreover, he also doesn’t like what has been happening at home. He does not like his nephew, him being around and possibly being a liability, nor does he like how Baz is the big king in the Cody Gang anymore. His mother’s trying to turn him around. But will that put her boys at odds? There’s a good chance.
Speaking of the boys, Baz and Craig are on a Mexican beach enjoying themselves. At least for a while. Craig’s wanting to do more jobs, as Baz tries to keep him from doing anything stupid.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.13.03 AM
Out collecting rent, Deran (Jake Weary) runs into Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark) – not only is he the one who owes money for the surf shop, he’s also the guy who was going down on Deran. His face is a mess. He dropped tons of cash on an MRI to make sure there were no internal injuries. Now, he doesn’t want to pay rent. It’s all on Deran, or else Smurf finds out her boy was sucking dick then decided to sucker punch the guy whose dick he sucked. Nasty stuff for ole Deran, he’s in quite the position.
Pope picks up Josh. As advised by his mother, the uncle plans on bringing his nephew into the fold. Just not Baz’s fold. He wants to exert some of his influence on the kid and get him on the perceived ‘right’ side of the family. This will only mean more and more of the brothers being at odds with one another. Not to mention Pope also ropes Deran into the mix. But though Smurf suggested Pope ought to include Josh in things, she knows nothing of the job the boys are about to do. Plus, Smurf is too busy trying to make sure she gets to spend time with Catherine and Baz’s daughter. Even if that means being greasy.
You ready to have some fun?” Pope asks his nephew, as they haul on some uniforms, throw decals on their truck, and prepare to get busy. Inside their target building, the boys break through a wall and look for a safe. They find it, though they’re interrupted, and the pace quickens for them. Josh ends up doing Pope right when Deran refuses. At the very same time, coming back across the border, Craig lets Baz know there are drugs on board. Right as the police dogs come closer. It goes smoothly, but god damn – these guys play fast and loose. The only sensible one criminally is Baz. Just an all around shitshow at both ends.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.31.46 AM
The safe gets opened. Pope doesn’t want to give Deran any, as Josh did the work needed to be done: “He has more balls than you do,” Pope berates his brother. There is plenty of aggression and tension between these two now. Josh agrees to split things three ways, but Uncle Deran doesn’t want to admit he was scared, and walks off. There’s more tension elsewhere. Smurf and Catherine are at odds, too. Mama Smurf doesn’t like that Catherine has been getting money, et cetera, from the Cody Gang while thinking she’s above it. That is a slight bit of hypocrisy. All the same, Catherine doesn’t want her daughter around that viciousness. And I agree.
Craig’s drug plan pays off for him and Baz, even if the latter wasn’t too pleased with how things played out. At least they’re home in one piece. At home, Pope won’t take the watch back from his nephew, he tells him to keep it; all in the name of rebelling against mother. Man, these are a bunch of dudes with a terrible load of mommy issues all over the place. Aside from everyone else, Josh tells Deran he didn’t see anything down at the beach. Although the uncle plays it dumb. He shouldn’t. Because eventually Josh is going to find himself in a place where he’s going to drop that secret out in the open.
Around the couches, the Cody Gang talk about their father(s). One was a seagull. The other a one-eyed dolphin. Regardless of what or who he was, this is all about resentment. Pope pulls out more of it for Deran before leaving. It’s all too clear this situation will come to a head sooner rather than later. But Pope, he’s pushing hard against other issues. He keeps creeping around Catherine. Yet part of him is only concerned for her, the baby. He offers money to get a good babysitter. For all his weirdness and his temper, Pope seems to have a good heart. It’s just buried far beneath the issues with Smurf, his troubled life of crime, and a ton of bravado.


Poolside, Deran challenges nephew Josh to a competition: who can hold their breath longest in the pool. They stare one another down, as Josh clearly has more trouble than his uncle. When he tries to go back up, Deran stops him. He tries to drown his own nephew. All in good fun, right? Josh continues to figure out how dangerous it is being a Cody, and that being born into that blood is more like being birthed into Sparta than a Californian family.
Josh goes to see Nicky – he gives her back the watch. Certainly Mr. Belmont isn’t all that happy, but he’s still not an outright dick. I want to see more of his involvement with Josh. That makes me worry slightly for him because a man of the law involved with the Cody Gang is a recipe for disaster. At the house, Smurf bitches out Deran for Josh being gone with all his things. Where’s the boy headed?
Baz keeps money at his father’s place, stashed below the cupboards. Once more, he contemplates shooting his father, who for his part eggs him on. There’s a deep pain in Baz that stems from his family, his father in particular it seems, so there was likely abuse of some form in his past.


Smurf finds her grandson ready to head out of town. She’s sad to see him running. We find out more about Smurf’s own history, that her mother was also a junkie, which clearly passed down to her daughter, Josh’s mother. For his part, the kid wants to know who his father was, for sure. Smurf doesn’t know, only the one that she loved and that she tried to bring into the fold – Baz. They were in love. Whoa. That’s a ton of intrigue thrown into the batter right there. Well, Smurf takes Josh back home. We can see there’s something in Deran’s eyes; is it worry? He doesn’t want his secret gay life to get exposed, and also doesn’t want to be thrown from the family, for any reason.
Baz and Josh end up chatting briefly. The latter reveals he shot his mother up that day she died. That’s heavy. His semi-uncle assuages his guilt, saying that his mother did that to all of them and it was the family burden, essentially. I want to see more of this relationship between Baz and Josh. At least now we know why Baz is more gentle than any of the rest with Josh, as he has a personal connection to the kid.
Trying to sleep, Smurf feels the eyes of her crazy son Pope on her. He stands watching her for a while before coming to her bedside and crawling in next to her for a cuddle. I keep wondering if there’s something sordid to do with Smurf and Pope specifically. He seems to have the most issues. We’ll find out soon, I’m sure.
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Another solid episode. Next up is “Dead to Me” and with a title like that, YOU KNOW something is going down. Stick with me, and with the series. Digging these episodes a ton. I hope some of you are, too.

The Tense Line Between Cops and Criminals in John Hillcoat’s Triple 9

Triple 9. 2016. Directed by John Hillcoat. Screenplay by Matt Cook.
Starring Casey Afflec, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Clifton Collins Jr, Michelle Ang, Terence Rosemore, Terri Abney, & Alexander Babara. Worldview Entertainment/Anonymous Content/MadRiver Pictures.
Rated 14A. 110 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★★
POSTER Ever since I saw Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, director John Hillcoat was someone I found interesting. 17 years later, he made The Proposition, which is my personal favourite Western ever, and definitely one of the best contemporary Westerns of the past 20 years. Since then he pulled out a near perfect adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and also did the solid, fun Prohibition dramatic thriller Lawless. He is an interesting talent as a director, whose talent lies in getting down to the nitty gritty of his subject matter, whether that be prison, the end of the world, Prohibition heroes, or even the law.
Which is where Triple 9 comes in. Tackling a lot of different subplots at once, this is a pretty solid crime movie. Although, there are definitely a few faults. For one, the usually wonderful Kate Winslet is present giving us a Russian-American accent that is once or twice solid, then for the rest of the picture a truly abysmal element. But even with the few missteps, the screenplay from newcomer-screenwriter Matt Cook is interesting, it is suspenseful, and above all the world of dirty cops feels impressively real. The terror of being in the midst of renegade lawmen is very real in Triple 9. A good cop flick for our current times.
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A gang of corrupt cops and criminals including Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), & Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr) all find themselves indebted to the Russian mob. Particularly, because of Michael’s son with Elena Vlaslov (Gal Gadot), he’s stuck with her sister Irina (Kate Winslet), big time mobster, over his shoulder. After a bit of a botched heist, they’re expected to do one more job. A high stakes job, which will require them to pull a Triple Nine; code for when an officer is down. This will pull all units away, allowing others in the crew to infiltrate their target.
With a new cop in his precinct and as his partner, Marcus offers him up as the one to take down – Chris Allen (Casey Affleck). Only problem is that his uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson) is a big name around the city in the Police Department. And with too many loose threads, a plan, no matter how good, is bound to go wrong somewhere down the line.
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The action sequences are absolutely the film’s highlight. Right from the start, the opening robbery is super exciting. Especially after you see things going wrong for these guys, then figure out they’re cops. It’s a real whopper to start off the movie. Halfway through there’s a nice sequence where the police raid a Mexican gang and the action is stellar. Lots of great shots, very kinetic. On top of that, I love the film’s score from an awesome team including Bobby Krlic, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, and Claudia Sarne. A nice electronic, subtle score that bubbles and boils up, bouncing around just like the action. Fits things well.
The cinematography overall is fantastic, from action sequences to the lower key scenes in various locations, all framed so beautifully, so dark and vibrant. Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis is a favourite of mine. He is responsible for the look of a top film in my books, Bullhead, as well as The Drop and recent horror Cub. His eye is good, and the texture of his camerawork is so rich. Whereas the action scenes are definitely best, some of the others where the camera is very still, exquisitely framed, fill out the other portions of the film in a nice tapestry that takes us from the dangerous streets to dingy strip clubs, secret meetings under overpasses, to alleys and crack houses, and everywhere in between. The whole movie is atmospheric. It has a dark tone, a deep moodiness about it, most of which comes from Karakatsanis and how he captures everything. As the film wears on and we hit the climax, the cinematography is much more personal, close-up, and it hones tight on everything. Whittling down much like the characters do in number.
For the most part, Cook’s screenplay is good. There’s a hole or two now and then, which is fine. Nobody’s ever made an objectively perfect movie, and even the greatest screenplays all have little messes in them. But best of all, the plot and story come together with all their various threads nicely. For a film that has a lot of focus in different directions, Cook manages to keep our attention in the right spots. Never does one subplot ever overtake the whole film’s main plot because the whole thing shifts from one act to the next until we’re left with the aftermath of these cops and their decisions. Things weave around quite a bit at times. Without spoiling anything, the cops find their plans don’t exactly work out as they’d hoped. And once things begin spinning out of control there’s no turning back – the plot will whisk you away towards a violent finale.
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Triple 9 is able to stay so interesting despite its few flaws due in large part to the well rounded cast. Someone I’m huge on is Woody Harrelson, so to see him here in a nice little supporting role is great. Even his voice is fun, but the character itself is great; he is kind of sleazy, yet he’s one of the better of the lot. Just little bits make him so fun: meeting with a transsexual, played wonderfully by Michael K. Williams, and slapping her ass; picking a joint out of the garbage; snorting some drugs in the backseat of a cruiser.
Someone I love while not actually loving a whole of the movies he’s in is Anthony Mackie. I’m always rooting for him to get better roles. Here, he plays a dirty, dirty police officer. All the same, he’s not completely worthless, as his character’s at least partly conflicted sometimes. You can see him wanting to like Affleck’s character, they bond a little, and Mackie plays that role so right, with faint hesitation and plenty of emotion. On the other side is Casey Affleck, another actor I personally enjoy. He has this laid back sensibility about him, some take it as disaffected or boring, but to me it’s just his attitude. His behaviour works proper here because he’s supposed to feel apart from the other cops in the film; he’s sort of cocky, but not in a disingenuous way. Him and Mackie have nice chemistry together, as well as with Harrleson in their few scenes.
Aaron Paul is great, too. Part of his character is similar to Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad, but not the entirety. This character, Gabe, was a cop who fell off the track, like crazy. He’s a hardcore addict. And still, there’s a tiny drop of humanity in him. Paul is the perfect casting for this role because he’s able to be a dirtbag drug head and simultaneously play the character as sympathetic, honest, raw.
In addition to these solid performances, the cast is filled up with other great actors. Ejiofor gives an uncharacteristically menacing performance, proving he is not only a nice guy actor. In his brief performance, Reedus is, as usual, charismatic in his rough and rugged way. Clifton Collins Jr is another guy I always love seeing, and here he puts off his gangster cop persona just the right amount. And yes, Williams as Sweet Pea, the glamorous transsexual, is a welcomed addition even if he’s only onscreen for about a single minute. The cast makes this movie what it is. Kate Winslet adds nothing with her bad accent because she doesn’t feel menacing to me – not like Ejiofor, who strikes the right amount of scary bastard. But if it weren’t for the rest of these actors, Triple 9 would be highly mediocre crime-thriller fare.FILM Triple 9 093414
Some reviews I’ve seen are unfair. This is definitely not one of the best crime-thrillers I’ve seen as of late. At the same time, this is still solid. The action is exciting, it will push your adrenaline in certain scenes. It is tense and rarely, if ever, lets up. Also, you have to admire some of the methods these criminals/cops use in their robberies. A few nice, innovative little pieces to add into the movie lexicon. Any decent movie about criminals, especially ones where the criminals are cops and ex-military, so on, is going to have some nice tidbits of criminal activity. For instance, just some of the small moments where they tried covering their tracks, even the fact they spoke Spanish during the first heist and those types of things were nice inclusions. One absolute positive – Hillcoat does a fine job directing here and offers up more with this feature than others will have you believe. Don’t expect the next Heat, but don’t write this off as mediocre. It’s better than that. For all its mistakes, Triple 9 is dark and engaging. Maybe in a day and age where dirty cops are all too prevalent in real life some don’t want for this type of movie. Doesn’t change the fact it’s enjoyable.