Film Clips: This weekend’s movie openings and more September 03 2010

De Niro in a Robert Rodriguez film: a sign of the apocalypse?


  • Photo: Joaquin Avellán/Twentieth Century Fox.
  • A renegade Mexican Federale fights for justice in “Machete,” the latest film by Robert Rodriguez.

ANIMAL KINGDOM 3 stars (R) After his mother’s overdose, teenage J. Cody (James Frecheville) gets pulled into the criminal lifestyle of his uncles (including Ben Mendelsohn and Sullivan Stapleton). With downbeat naturalism, Animal Kingdom refuses to romanticize the Cody gangs’ larcenous activities, emphasizing how the glory days have passed and the Melbourne police are perfectly willing to use lethal force against them. Jacki Weaver has been justly praised as J.’s grandmother, a middle-class, “give us a kiss!” matriarch prepared to ruthlessly defend her sons if things go wrong. — Curt Holman

[|CENTURION 3 stars (R) In Great Britain circa 117 A.D., invading Roman soldiers (including Dominic West and Michael Fassbender) face devastating guerrilla tactics from the native Picts. Neil Marshall, director of The Descent and Doomsday, makes the most of gritty period detail, startling violence and a Fassbender’s commanding performance, but Centurion’s apparent terror of strong women (who turn out to be the most memorable villains) overshadow its political metaphors for Vietnam and any country that ever invaded Afghanistan. — Holman
[|MACHETE 2 stars (R) Ultra-macho federale turned anonymous day laborer Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) takes a job to assassinate a Texan anti-immigrant state senator (Robert De Niro), then seeks revenge on villains from either side of the border, played by the likes of Don Johnson and Steven Seagal. Director Robert Rodriguez expands his hilarious fake trailer from Grindhouse to feature length, but after an uproarious, over-the-top prologue, the tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation flick turns flabby and unfocused. Like most of Rodriguez’s work, Machete starts as a sharp commentary on shlocky cinema, then ends up indistinguishable from its cheesy target. — Holman
MAO’S LAST DANCER 3 stars (PG) While visiting the Houston Ballet in the 1980s, Chinese dancer Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) faces the temptations of American freedom and flashes back to his severe Communist childhood. Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford soft-pedals the drama and Cao, while a trained dancer, reveals limited emotional range. Nevertheless, the film provides a welcome reminder of the Orwellian oppressiveness of Communist China under Mao, and builds to a fascinating confrontation between Li’s Communist handlers and his American allies. — Holman

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 3 stars (R) The second half of Jean-François Richet’s two-part action biopic traces the downfall of Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassell) as France’s most notorious bank robber and kidnapper of the 1960s and 1970s. Cassell continues to convey the dangerous charisma of young, thin Robert DeNiro, and Mathieu Amalric joins up as cellmate and fellow escape artist who disdains Mesrine’s showmanship. The film loses steam in its last hour, when Mesrine half-heartedly dabbles in revolutionary politics, but overall, director Jean-François Richet crafts compelling set pieces that pit Mesrine against the criminal justice system. — Holman]