Review- We Need to Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin (Oscilloscope Labs)

I’ll never get used to living outside of the New York/Los Angeles inner-circle in cinematic terms, even if I was there it would not change the fact that I take umbrage with the end of year release patterns that delay viewership of many good films for those living in the rest of the country. I was going up to NYC and my plan was to catch this film during that trip, that plan hit a snag when I realized the limited one-week Oscar-qualifying engagement ended right before my planned trip. Thus, I have not had a legitimate chance to see it until just recently, and it becomes a 2012 BAM eligible film, and not a 2011 film, despite its technical release date.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
is a film that’s largely about perspective, memory and how that may influence the perception of reality. That’s not all its about but that certainly plays a large part. It tells the tale of Eva (Tilda Swinton) who is struggling to move on with her life after her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), commits a mass murder at his high school. All that is established early on, and much of the narrative is her reflecting back on his upbringing, from his birth to the present.

Memories are built on one fact that lends us a clue to an incident and over time they become either hazy or gilded depending upon the emotion we associate with that memory. There is a truth to all she remembers but just how much embroidering her subconscious does in a futile search for answers is not clear. One of the best things the film does thematically is to not treat so difficult a subject with facility, but rather depth. There are precursors to the event but also other moments that belie it. Therefore, Kevin is not always a black and white antagonist he has moments of seemingly lucid humanity, which he then counteracts but any flatness of character can be an affectation of the storyteller’s, Eva’s, perspective. Having already lived these things and now reliving them in hindsight her associations and interpretations of relationships are set: Her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly) is placating, non-confrontational and an ineffectual parent and Kevin is opaque, she doesn’t know what goes on in his head, except that she feels constantly antagonized by him.

While the film functions on two planes, the present and past, for the most part it moves in relative chronology within those planes. Flashbacks typically are done as sequences. There are quick flashes when she encounters someone from her former life whom she is trying to separate herself from. This relative chronology does give the film a fairly even and steady pace that is truly only broken in occasions by the steadily increasing severity of Kevin’s actions. It’s a film that needs to be told as it is, for the story elements told in precise chronological order with no flashbacks whatsoever would not be effective at all. Instead you get a very cinematic treatment of the story, a story that visually takes you into its protagonist’s thoughts.

Much of my interest in this film was not just due to the amount of positive buzz I heard about the film itself on Twitter but also the praise being heaped upon Tilda Swinton, whom I love. I can see now why she got the attention she did, she is brilliant and understated in this film. With regards to her Oscar snub, I both get it and don’t get it: I get it because there’s not really a great clip moment, which is cliché but that seems to drive things in terms of perception, but I don’t get it because it’s just so good. There’s a tremendous understanding by her, and everyone in the film about acting for and into the edit. Things are done very precisely as if they know where the cuts are and what impact they’ll have. Clearly, this is also a credit to the editor and director, however, that point plays into the concept of not doing too much. It is a film and these actors employ film techniques and know the assist they’ll get on the technical end and exploit it greatly. It’s a must see for students of the craft.

Yet as much as this is is Eva’s and Swinton’s film she does get some tremendous support. Based on the aforementioned interpretation of his character John C. Reilly is perfectly cast. Granted he does have range but in his even tone he does come off as a man who would be a buddy style of father and wouldn’t harm a fly. Ezra Miller doesn’t have a tremendous amount of credits to his name as of yet but the roles he has taken thus far have been challenging and have made him one of the go to actors in indie films and perhaps he will find a crossover success soon. As for this film he plays the part to a tee, meaning though his actions might be mostly one note the way he plays them aren’t always.

Typically, when you have a character who is aged during the course of a story you don’t have significant screen time dedicated to all the actors who play said character, in this case three. Jasper Newell, who is the middle incarnation of Kevin, carries much of the middle of the film and is very impressive, even more so when you consider its his feature film debut. Not to be outdone there is another solid performance in the young cast by Ashley Gerasimovich, who has one of the great moments where the numbness you can feel watching it breaks as she engenders tremendous sympathy.

We Need to Talk About Kevin may not be an easy film to watch in a number of ways but it is all the more rewarding for it. All facets of the production contribute greatly to a mind-play wherein a mother is lost searching for answers about just how her child could do such a thing and if anything could’ve been done. It’s a visual tale that is truly pure cinema, it’s truly great.

10/10

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61 Days of Halloween- Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Dimension)

About the only thing that Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was not about to tackle was the whereabouts of Laurie Strode. In fact, that had been left rather open since the end of Part II. It was safe to assume that Michael was alive so why couldn’t she be?

With a name like Halloween: H20 you wouldn’t expect much but there are many pleasant surprises. The first of which is the return of the song “Mr. Sandman.” It’s a small touch but it’s such a great dichotomous use of source music it is welcome back and it’s acknowledged by Laurie for a good laugh.

The first kill in this movie is notable because it is a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt who gets his face sliced open but what’s most notable in the casting of this movie is, of course, the return of Jamie Lee Curtis. She is great reprising the role of Laurie Strode many years on and having her as anchor makes up from some of the shortcomings the film does suffer from.

One of those shortcomings is that though the series has not been rebooted there is some confusion in chronology. The original established Michael as 6 when he killed his older sister and he was 21 when he broke out. This film seems to indicate he was 15. It’s little details like that which may drive you crazy.

It’s good to hear Donald Pleasence in voice over even though he cannot be there. While Jamie Lee being back is clearly the biggest casting storyline there is in this film one of the better casts the series has boasted and much of it due to good fortune. The next installment would attempt one-upsmanship by trying to name pick but this one had young stars before they had broken out.

The conflict between Laurie and her son (Josh Hartnett) was quite good as he was trying to move on with his life and trying to get her to move beyond Michael Myers. There is also a scene between Jamie Lee and her mom Janet Leigh, where strains from Psycho play underneath it. It is a rather funny scene because of it and well played by both.

Laurie’s psychological struggles are used to great effect in this film and create some surprising scenes where you think you can discern reality from hallucination.

Even the phony scare which becomes a staple of the series works very well here and perhaps there is the most effective cross-film trick conveyed in these two films not to give too much away.

This film though adding a new generation of actors and paying tribute to one past still stays very grounded in what this film is about. It knows that you can’t move the story to Southern California unless Michael is given a reason to go there. It doesn’t do things just to be hip or trendy but because they make sense and it actually works surprisingly well nine times out of ten.

This would’ve been the perfect place to leave the series off before thoughts of reboots entered anyone’s mind but alas it was not to be.

7/10

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Paul Rudd in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Universal)

OK, so what is the deal with part 6 in a super-long horror franchise? Previously, I was surprised by how out of the blue good Friday the 13th: Part 6 managed to be. Well, here it strikes again.

The first thing that needs to be established is that part of what makes this work is the fact that rather than revealing a previously unknown branch of the Myers or Strode family tree here we go back. This film involves Tommy Doyle many years later. Tommy had long ago been discarded from the series and had come to be a non-entity. To bring him back as a character who has become obsessed with studying Michael Myers and what makes him tick is so ingenious you wonder that it didn’t happen before.

After all it was Tommy’s prodding who introduced the concept of the boogeyman into the films in the first place. Another good thing is that it does finally resolve the Jamie Lloyd storyline, which is commendable because they could’ve thrown that away. Granted it was a little quick and brazen considering how huge an obstacle she was but it at least it was dealt with.

Part of what makes this film interesting is that it goes beyond the fact that Michael is just looking for a blood relation and examines the question why Halloween? It searches for and finds answers previously intimated in Part II with the allusion to the ritual of Samhain.

Not only that but it makes bigger societal commentaries with a shock jock character and also with the misguided and scarily cabalistic worship that Michael has inspired in some.

Right off the bat the first two kills in this film are gruesomely fantastic and likely to garner an audible reaction and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.  

It follows thru on so many things in the past that were left dangling and executes its own plot so well it’s hard not to like this installment in the series. Part of how the shock jock fits into the film is that he is bringing Halloween back to Haddonfield after it has been banned. It also through some tongue-in-cheek humor lampoons where the series could but does not go and makes it very entertaining.

While this is the first film in a while to try and expound on the psychology of Michael Myers it does carry through another valuable constant and that is Dr. Loomis. His being retired at this point and being drawn back in while a standard tactic when combined with these factors works to great effect.

It was also a fitting swansong for Donald Pleasence in the series that the film was dedicated to his memory and the last hint of him we have is through voice over and not a visual. Granted this is a decision likely forced upon the production it ended up being fortuitous and as classy a farewell as one could expect from a slasher franchise.

While this film takes the story more into the outside world than any other had it doesn’t feel in any way disingenuous but rather a natural evolution of the story. Nothing is rehashed and it is probably the most startlingly original installment to the series barring the progenitor.

This one is definitely worth viewing and giving a chance. Do not judge it by where it falls chronologically.

8/10

The Trouble with The Magician’s Nephew

The Chronicles of Narnia (Scholastic)

So yesterday the beans were finally spilled that it will be the Magician’s Nephew that is the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia that will be adapted into a film. Now I had been one of a select group of fans who had adamantly supported The Silver Chair as the next book that should get adapted and not just for continuity’s sake, as Eustace, played by Will Poulter, in the only character that crosses over to that book from Dawn Treader.

The fact that this debate exists is interesting and indicative of a few things that are unique about the Narnia series as opposed to other fantasy properties.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that the chronology was always likely to be fractured. Those seeds were sewn by C.S. Lewis himself. For it was Lewis himself who wrote The Magician’s Nephew after the other six installments and pleaded, mostly to no avail, that it be read before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As a child I did not read it as such. When the first film was about to be released I searched for information on reading order and finally took the tales in properly.

Of course, we all know The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first film and subsequently that the producers decided that it was to be the Pevensie tales would be told first. Whereas in other fantasy properties you typically have a continuity in the personages populating the tale. Lewis, however, is true to the name of his series and this series are about the stories and about the land rather than a particular lead or group thereof.

If one adheres to Lewis’s reading plot the books that have been adapted thus far are numbers two, four and five. The decision to go to The Magician’s Nephew, an origins tale, at this point is a curious one on a few accounts.

Firstly, I find it a bit of a curious business decision. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just crossed the $400 Million mark in international box office receipts and it is a film that took the somewhat unusual path in this day and age of building by word-of-mouth. Due in part to the disappointment most felt in Prince Caspian it didn’t break out of the box strong but had staying power when people realized this one is very good indeed.

With a franchise redeemed, at least in a financial sense, it would seem like the most obvious decision in the world to go next to the one tale that had any sort of connection.

Will Poulter in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that while the film doesn’t make it explicit I assumed Will Poulter is playing quite a few years younger than he is in Dawn Treader. Given some time off he may not look the part of Eustace as much as he does now. Not that I think he’d be replaced but it just might seem a bit awkward or need a bit of a re-write when the Silver Chair‘s time does come.

With this sort of momentum I even entertained the wild fantasy that funding would be sought for both potential next films to shoot simultaneously and release one shortly after another. The fact of the matter is the remaining volumes need not all have the same director as each has its own sensibility.

Pipe dreams aside, personally I would’ve liked Silver Chair next not just because I prefer that story but because it made more logical sense. The series has already pleasantly surprised me in two of its three installments so I am more than willing to withhold judgment but as I said it strikes me as odd.

With Narnia being by its very nature a more fragmented series it does raise some doubts as to what its cinematic future is. Let us assume the tale works as well as possible and the marketing draws in enough fans new and old, then what?

After The Magician’s Nephew the books that remain are: The Horse and His Boy, book number three, a more introspective tale than any of the others. It always struck me as having a Carol Ballard’s Black Stallion vibe, which would make it rather an artistic venture and as such it’s a gamble. I can’t see the producers gambling twice in a row so I predict this book would be the 6th film of the series.

The Silver Chair being the runner-up this time around would thus be the 5th film adapted and naturally The Last Battle would close out the series.

If films four and five connect then I think it’d be safe to assume they could afford a gamble and a closing chapter.

When it started there were no guarantees, and there still isn’t, that this series would see completion. It’s an older property than the other big budget films and has Christian overtones, which do not appeal to some but it’s never been about that to me it’s been about great storytelling.

In conclusion, I do like The Magician’s Nephew and definitely think there’s potential there with new cast members and story which re-examines some familiar motifs. I am just not sure it was the right choice as the next film. However, if it does well this series will be one step closer to following in Harry Potter‘s footsteps, proving you can plan a massive series and achieve it. If you consider that I believe two of the first three Narnia installments trump Potter it is very exciting news regardless of which novel they chose to adapt next.