15 December 2011

Movie Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

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B

We Need To Talk About Kevin
2011, 112mins, 15
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writer (s): Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear, Lionel Shriver (novel)
Cast includes: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Rock Duer, Jasper Newell
UK Release Date: 21st October 2011

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is a deeply unsettling watch, director Lynne Ramsay capturing the disturbed essence of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel capably. Ramsay assembles the narrative in a fragmented style, mirroring the state of motherly distress that its protagonist endures for the majority of the feature. It’s not a movie for all tastes, and possibly goes overboard in its pursuit of a surreal visual aesthetic, but “We Need To Talk About Kevin” leaves a pointed mark thanks to solid acting and a consistent aura of subdued dread.

Kevin (Ezra Miller in a stunning debut) is a teenage serial killer, having utilized his fascination with archery to bloody effect on several of his classmates. The police quickly whip him into custody, leaving his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) to publically deal with the consequences of Kevin’s psychotic actions. As the local community turns against her, Eva is left alone and exasperated to reflect on her life as a parent, with particular focus being applied to Kevin’s ominous upbringing.

Due to the splintered fashion in which Ramsey interprets the tale, it is impossible to discuss “We Need To Talk About Kevin” without touching on some minor spoilers. From the outset it’s obvious that Eva’s life has been stung by massive tragedy, the source of which quickly transpires to be Kevin. We don’t know exactly what has occurred, only that it is a cause of immense local distress, leaving Eva to have her house vandalised regularly and to suffer through vicious confrontations with disgruntled residents. Ramsay uses the power of uncertainty effectively, deploying it to crank up the tension resourcefully. A chronological retelling of the story might have allowed for a more accessible link with certain characters, but it would also have undoubtedly robbed the film of the suspense that ultimately acts as a core driving force.

Swinton is never overplays her hand as Eva, subtly communicating various degrees of emotional abandonment throughout the picture splendidly. It’s a fantastically grounded turn, the actress finding appropriate onscreen dynamics with her various co-stars. She and John C. Reilly (playing her husband) make for a believable pairing, and her scenes with young Ezra Miller are astounding. Miller also conveys a lot through very little, the actor providing “We Need To Talk About Kevin” with a very human menace. He’s never entirely sympathetic, but the teen does a fine job of depicting a person simply hamstrung with sadness from birth, converting his disdain into action through the most despicable means possible.

The opening 15 minutes of the film are almost unwatchable, Ramsay simply stitching together a series of striking images with little regard for context. With every frame the film’s intent becomes more obvious, but whilst it is strikingly photographed and edited, one feels that some of Ramsay’s choices aren’t always to the story’s benefit. There are chunks of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” that feel hollow and overly frosty, Ramsay’s fixation on bizarre aesthetical choices and forceful cinematography overriding the impact of the harrowing plot. The director never pulls her punches and during the focal scenes always applies stern attention to the cruel interactions depicted, but amidst vital pieces of character building she occasionally gets lost. These dips in focus loosen the pacing frustratingly, killing the project’s intrigue and fever at inopportune moments.

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” will be remembered as one of 2011’s more unforgiving motion pictures, unwilling to play ball with conventional expectations or to wimp out during its more horrific sequences. As a result it might find trouble converting its critical acclaim (the film was a hit at Cannes earlier this year) into statues, although pundits would do well to keep a keen eye on Swinton and Miller during the forthcoming season. This is an adaptation worth watching, but not one I can see the masses returning to again and again. If you need to talk about Kevin now’s the time, because come Oscar night I have a feeling he’ll be strangely forgotten.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

13 December 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

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B-

Hugo
2011, 126mins, PG
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Cast includes: Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jude Law
UK Release Date: 2nd December 2011

Having built a now legendary career on the back of hardboiled genre flicks such as “Goodfellas” and “The Departed”, it is odd to observe Martin Scorsese transfer into the arena of family fuelled adventure with “Hugo”. An adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, “Hugo” is a beautifully designed feature, shot with all the majesty and detailed craft that one expects from its famed director. However despite a roster of strong performances and a resonant finish, the first two acts of the movie drag, a fact likely to deter the very young from appreciating its other moderate charms.

Hugo (Asa Butterfield giving a tremendously sympathetic performance) is an orphan who secretly operates the clocks in a Parisian train station, spending his days keeping the cogs ticking whilst also avoiding the gaze of the station’s goofy police inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen). Hugo also has one other purpose; he is desperate to rebuild an automaton his father was working on shortly before an untimely fire claimed his life. Collecting bits to try and get the robot mechanized once more, Hugo runs afoul of cranky shop owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), a man who takes a suspicious dislike to Hugo and his various projects. Teaming up with Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), Hugo embarks on a mysterious adventure, one that will answer questions about his own past and help others come to appreciate and cope with their own.

The look of “Hugo” is phenomenally polished, Scorsese sparing no expense with his lavish set design and eye for the spectacular. Paris is captured via a mixture of CGI and practical sets, the picture oozing a European sensibility from each meticulously sculpted frame. It’s not entirely impossible that the film’s greatest redeeming feature is its impressive visual aesthetic, the picture providing viewers with a beautiful world almost richer than any of its protagonists.

The screenplay is clumsy at times, although it can’t be faulted in terms of imbuing the piece with a notable emotional core. Thanks to a selection of mature performances and an attention to some unusually complex character arcs for a children’s flick, “Hugo” successfully manages to make the audience care about its lead and the various other figures that inhabit his world, allowing the finale to register with pleasant depth and clarity. However the opening two acts are much patchier, the tale unfolding at a lethargic pace, Scorsese infuriatingly keeping too many of the story’s secrets for far too long. There are some enjoyable set-pieces (several of the foot chases through the station are wonderfully shot) and Cohen’s over the top turn as Gustav helps provide a dollop of firm and skilled comic relief, but ultimately the picture lulls too often. It’s never offensively dull or unbearably boring, yet the opening hour is unquestionably uneven in its ability to entertain.

As is often the case with the filmmaker, Scorsese turns “Hugo” into a blunt love letter to cinema, tying the history of the art form and the fate of the film’s characters inextricably together. This portion of the movie feels extremely reminiscent of last year’s “Shutter Island”, another venture that operated largely as a celebration of bygone B-movie classics. However whilst “Shutter Island” was subtle about its admiration for schlocky psychological yarns, “Hugo” quickly feels like an academic lecture, Scorsese working in the basic history of cinema rather uncomfortably. I can appreciate where he’s coming from, and indeed some warmth emanates from this addition to the feature, but at times it feels like more unnecessary baggage in an already overcooked fantasy.

“Hugo” is worth a look on the basis that it affords cineastes the chance to see a master of the camera move outside of his comfort zone, and indeed the results are more often good than bad. However, it’s hard to imagine this being remembered as one of Marty’s crowing achievements, instead “Hugo” feels destined to be labelled a watchable yet flawed curio.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011