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We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
We need to talk about reality
This is a very well-made movie with some good acting that succeeded in holding my attention. Having done so, however, it proceeded to leave me frustrated and annoyed at something that initially threatened to take on several important issues - child development, parenting, and the origins of 'evil' to name but a few - but quickly degenerated into a shallow non-shocker brimming with inexplicable behaviour and lacking any sense of insight into the real issues it exploits.
I'm not the first and won't be the last to observe that the title is totally misleading, since at no point does anyone attempt to actually talk about Kevin. The relationship between father and mother (Eva) is nothing short of ridiculous. Example: Kevin behaves abusively toward his mother, and turns nice when dad comes into the room, and we are expected to believe that the dad's total and inexplicable dismissal of the mother's complaints would not cause devastating tensions within their own relationship. From the beginning dad takes nothing mum says about Kevin seriously, yet she never gets angry at him, or demands his support, or even bothers to explain the extent and nature of their son's duplicity and viciousness. Meanwhile dad does not even raise any objection when Kevin is openly aggressive to his mother in front of him, or even when Kevin flatly refuses his father's request not to taunt his sister about the loss of her eye. The whole family dynamic lacks realism.
In the end none of the issues raised by the movie is satisfactorily addressed. Two particular cop-outs, relating to the school shooting issue, leap to mind. The first is when Eva searches Kevin's room and finds no trace of personality at all, just empty drawers and notebooks. In reality the rooms of real school shooters were full of clues that they were going down a dark psychological path characterized by (among other things) obsession with violence, but Kevin is a fantasy figure who is so evil that he needs no psychological preparation for mass killing. The second is the massacre itself, which is carried out with (wait for it) a bow and arrow?!? Really?? Apparently some practice in the garden has turned this kid into Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
In short, neither school killings nor killer bear a meaningful resemblance to any real-life examples of this kind of thing. Like I said, I think it does nothing more than exploits the issues it raises for dramatic impact. So, despite its merits, I would not recommend it to anyone who appreciates realistic characters or social commentary.
Prometheus vs Alien, compare and contrast...
Much well-deserved vitriol has been poured upon Prometheus by so many reviewers, it is not necessary to rehearse these critiques. I would like to add a brief comparison with the original Alien (1979), which is revealing as to the relative qualities of the two films and the general progress of Hollywood zeitgeist. (spoilers for 'Alien' alert).
First some prominent similarities, not to say homages/re-hashes...
- Rag-tag crew rocks up on Alien planet and snoop around
- Alien'impregnation' and 'birth' central to the plot
- Dodgy android getting his head knocked off, then having a chat
Now for some telling and unfortunate differences...
- The Crew: The Alien crew are often foolhardy, panicky or misguided, but then they are a bunch of miners tossed into an unexpected and shocking situation entirely unprepared, so their behaviour is believable. What's more they have an easy familiarity with each-other and humour that makes them sympathetic human beings. In contrast, the Prometheus crew, despite being highly qualified professionals, if anything behave much more stupidly and inexplicably than the original crew - there is little evidence of protocol or scientific rigour, not to mention common sense. More importantly they lack any semblance of humanity and likability - they are an atomized group of plot-drivers playing pass-the-stupid-ball.
- The Androids: Ian Holm plays the android in Alien as officious, dispassionate and if anything slightly irritable - the genius of the role and performance is that you believe him as a human, but you also totally buy it when you discover that he was a robot all along. His motivation for letting the alien on board against protocol is entirely explained - he is a machine, totally loyal to corporate interest and indifferent to the lives of the humans on the ship. Michael Fassbender's android is a crass and faintly ridiculous caricature, who despite frequent references to his inability to feel emotions constantly has resentment or amazement written all over his face. Like the original android he wantonly endangers the crew by bringing nasty unknown alien stuff aboard; however in the case of Prometheus the crew includes the owner and financier of the mission (and his only child), making Fassbender's actions entirely insane, unless we assume that he has malfunctioned and now wishes to kill his programmer.
- Dramatic tension and pace: Alien takes its time establishing dramatic tension, introducing the crew without fanfare and with little sign of the horrors to come. Prometheus immediately shows us the beef, which although visually entertaining, completely destroys the sense of reveal about the deadly/creative effects of the black goo. In Alien, tension is established and broken deliberately, as when the crew laugh together just before the alien 'birth', momentarily lulling the viewer into a false sense of security which serves to heighten the shock of the event. In Prometheus tension is never established, and what little there might be is broken incessantly by accidental absurdities, like the enthusiastic determination of the biologist to touch the hostile alien snake, or the eager cheerfulness of the pilots upon learning of the necessity of suicide.
- The Politics: Alien was enhanced by a powerful undercurrent of political commentary on the present-day society. The corporation - aptly represented both by the literally heartless ship's medic, and the abstract 'computer-says-no' protocols that force the crew's compliance - is the other great enemy in the film, and the android's admiring description of the alien is a subtle but powerful critique of the amoral competitive mentality that was increasingly dominating business and politics. Of course the message is even more resonant today. Prometheus loses any semblance of political commentary in a swirl of arbitrary events and cosmological ideas too big to possibly explore satisfactorily instead of a coldly acquisitive company we have a delusional old geezer, and a cheap re-hash of tired Pandora's Box / Tower of Babel / Frankenstein / Curiosity Killed the Cat themes that frankly were much more effectively done in (for instance) the Indiana Jones films.
In conclusion, Alien is a darkly effective and relevant movie that hints at a much greater universe and mystery in a way that enriches the film, while the similar ambitions of Prometheus are thwarted by a convoluted plot, poorly described characters, and the simultaneous over-exposure and under-explanation of the enigmatic and 'profound' elements.
Futuristic Action from the Old School
In a post-apocalyptic near-future, urbanization is 100%, and the vast megacities are the crime-ridden hell on earth that you would expect them to be. Judge Dredd, a new kind of policeman with the powers of judge, jury and executioner, works the grim and futile beat of Megacity One.
The plot of Dredd is rudimentary, set predominantly in one city super- block, without the 'epic' feel that so many modern action films try to evoke. To those with bigger-the-better sensibilities, it may seem a little underwhelming. But the simplicity of the film is also its strength. In place of complex narrative requiring lengthy and tedious exposition, the focus is firmly on characters, action and the superbly conceived vision of a disturbingly credible near-future.
The action, as the 18 rating suggests, is brutal and visceral, but avoids the more gratuitous excesses that the certificate would permit. The few sexual scenes are also very restrained, and instead of trying to shock the jaded 21st century audience with sex and sadism, Dredd opts for the artistry of super slow-motion action, which evokes the gory exit-wound frames of the original comic. The soundtrack is also very effective, lending a dark energy to proceedings.
Anyone who loved Terminator and Robocop will love this film, which in many ways is the most worthy successor to their dystopian visions of the future and inhuman anti-heroes. Not that Judge Dredd (played to perfection by Karl Urban) is actually inhuman. But with his face concealed by a mask and his feelings concealed behind a robotic infatuation with the Law, he is the next best thing, growling deadpan one liners that rely on the audience's sense of irony, rather than bombastic delivery, to provide the humor.
As in Terminator and Robocop, the humane and sympathetic role is left to a woman, in this case Dredd's rookie partner Judge Anderson, and as in those 80s classics she is no damsel in distress despite her human qualities. Anderson provides a welcome measure of empathy to the grim narrative, periodically reminding the audience that perps are humans too. In my opinion it is these few thoughtful moments that raise this movie from great fun to genuine class.
Overall, Dredd is by far the best action or sci-fi film I have seen in ages, certainly the only one that has left me wanting more, rather than wishing it had finished 20 minutes ago. The depth of the source material, and consequent potential further exploration of Dredd's world, is a huge bonus. A solid eight and a half out of ten all day long.
The hype machine strikes again...
This movie has some great special effects. The acting is pretty decent. That is about all I can say to its credit. Inception is a textbook example of the Hollywood hype machine in full effect.
The much-vaunted plot is interesting but derivative, failing to live up to its 'mind-bending' reputation. You would be much better off watching a film like Videodrome or the animated film Mindgame if you want to truly be thrown sideways. This one is about as deep as Total Recall, but takes itself about ten times as seriously.
I gave this a one merely as a corrective to the ridiculously high score that only a team of studio clerks working round the clock could have pushed to such a level. All in all it is a quite enjoyable film. I would watch it on TV if there was not much else on. But that is as far as it goes. There, now you are fully inoculated against the hype, go fourth and watch or not, free from utopian delusions.
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Stay with it...
This film almost seems to set out to frustrate. The conversation is initially quite directionless and obscure, but giving it your absolute attention will yield quite exquisite rewards.
It is really important not to be distracted during this film. An interesting experiment to do is to put it on in a room where some people are looking at a laptop, iphone etc or quietly chatting and others are simply watching. Ask everyone what they thought afterward and observe the startlingly different ways in which the film affects those who give it their full attention to those who don't!
If you are after generic movie entertainment, this is not for you. If you want a film that goes beyond the endless cycle of bullshit and reaches out to you personally, you will struggle to find a better one than My Dinner With Andre. Enjoy!