Tag Archives: Children in Peril

Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Rating: B+/ There was a lot of excitement in our household for the upcoming release of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. We loved Taika Waititi’s previous effort, What We Do in the Shadows, which has become one of our top movies to rewatch and quote. Eagle Vs. Shark didn’t exactly do it for me, but it’s abundantly obvious that Waititi has loads of talent and a knack for dry, sometimes borderline dark humor and eccentric characters. So it should come as no surprise that Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is no exception. Continue reading Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

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Rating: B+/ A quick read that sucks you in immediately with it’s fascinating premise, I’m Not Scared actually pales a little in comparison to it’s outstanding film adaptation, but is nevertheless absolutely a compulsively readable and extremely entertaining book. I bought the book because I was a huge fan of the film, and I finished it in a day. I think I would have liked it better if I didn’t know almost exactly what was going to happen from the movie version, which robbed the suspenseful story of the element of surprise; and the ending did not quite work for me. I think it will make for a better experience if you read the book first. But nonetheless, I’m Not Scared is a compelling read with a likable boy protagonist who is forced to come of age and make some very hard decisions over the course of a sweltering summer in a small Italian village in 1978. Continue reading Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

Book Review: Singing Songs by Meg Tilly

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Rating: B/ This autobiographical novel by actress Meg Tilly (yes, that Meg Tilly, of Agnes of God and The Big Chill) is a tough pill to swallow. I actually tried unsuccessfully to complete it like four or five times before finally getting all the way through. It’s not a bad book, and certainly a well-written one (obviously something had me coming back, probably the main character’s voice) but the level of child abuse made it almost unreadable for me. The fact that some of this, if not most of it, had actually happened in some form made it even more stomach-turning. Continue reading Book Review: Singing Songs by Meg Tilly

Movie Review: The Selfish Giant (2014)

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Rating: B+/ Yes, this is ‘yet another depressing British movie,’ but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the world needs these stories just a much, if not more, than we need the candy-colored cathartic ones. The Selfish Giant gives us a unrelentingly real look into a world of poverty and deprivation, a working-class Northern English community where the kids run wild and the adults offer minors no support whatsoever as they eke out an existence of hard luck and toil. Continue reading Movie Review: The Selfish Giant (2014)

Sicario (2015)

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Rating- A+/ Buckle your seat belts, because this ride gets pretty crazy. Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a unrelentingly bleak and fascinating film about a subject I know nothing about, Mexican Drug Cartels. The only stuff I know about Cartels I learned from the television shows Breaking Bad and The Bridge, so don’t expect me to know a lot about the authenticity of this film. But my dad is a cop who hates cop shows, and he was totally fucking psyched about getting us to watch this. Anyway, there’s hardly a dull moment in Sicario, it’ll get your heart pounding and your adrenaline going, and although it’s a bit too character-driven to be described as an ‘action movie’ (not in the same vein as say, Transformers,) it’ll have your attention every moment of it’s duration. And some of that time you’ll literally be holding your breath in suspense (as cliche as that sounds.)

This is a film where things go from bad to worse. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-books FBI agent who specializes in kidnapping scenarios. After a raid goes badly awry, Kate is approached by the CIA and offered a job she knows nothing about. Eager to get back at the people who are responsible for the massacre of her teammates but sad to leave her partner and best friend Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) (How refreshing to see a storyline featuring male-and-female besties that doesn’t devolve into a predictable romantic scenario!,) Kate travels by plane to Mexico, and is told by her superiors she is going to El Paso. Turns out, she’s not, she’s going to Juarez, the most corrupt city in Latin America, where there are literally mutilated bodies hanging from bridges in broad daylight. Shit. She’s going to need to ask for paid vacation time in the near future. Six months in Oahu won’t be nearly enough to get those images out of your head.

Kate is accompanied by an an chilled-out agent named Matt (Josh Brolin) who seems to be doing his best Jeffrey ‘the Dude’ Leboswki impression, and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro,) who doesn’t seem to be working for any one organization as much as his own twisted agenda. In the process of taking down a cartel led by the ruthless Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cadillo,) Kate goes in way over her head, falling down a kind of rabbit hole of violence and corruption.

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Kate’s story is interspersed with the plotline of Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández,) a Juarez cop who is similarly digging himself into an awfully big hole, but for different reasons. Despite what he might or might not have done, Silvio will break your heart as he makes one bad decision after another in the attempt to fully provide for his wife and son. His corruption and eventual undoing is juxtaposed with the other characters’ deep moral ambiguity and bad decision making throughout. There’s a lot of grey area here, and the characters range from the flawed, to the evil, to the downright dastardly and hold some of this complexity on both sides.

Sicario feels very raw and realistic, especially for an American movie, which seem to usually feel more sitcomish or fake than their overseas counterparts. The movie doesn’t show a whole ton of violence on screen but is gut-wrenchingly effective when it does, capturing the viewer’s imagination in scenes of implied torture and child murder. Kudos to whole cast from the biggest stars to the fairly obscure secondary players. Together they create a world of intrigue and chaos, and most of all, of unflinching realism. This is not a movie where the good guys go in guns-a-firing and save the day while dropping the occasional shitty one-liner. I’m not entirely sure there are any good guys, at least not in the typical sense. There is, however, a whole lot of devastation and emotional damage on the part of the people who have to deal with this crap- every day. To see the awful side of humanity on a regular basis is enough to make anyone go a little crazy, but these guys- particularly the dead-eyed Alejandro- go above and beyond the call of duty in terms of nuttiness.

Combining excellent foreshadowing  and script writing with a astonishingly chilling score, Sicario is a thriller with brains- I know, pick your disbelieving jaws off the floor- that provides no easy answers or platitudes about the drug war in Mexico or the infinite potential for darkness within the human condition. I’m not exaggerating when I saw this movie might contain the best ensemble cast of the year. The players give it all they’ve got, and the results are nothing less than harrowing. And this from the person who thought the directors’ earlier effort, Prisoners, was mindbogglingly overrated. I guess you don’t know exactly what to expect of a filmmaker until you’ve seen them at their best.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

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Rating: B/  Oh, Franklin. you should have worn the damned condom!

Okay, so maybe Eva Khachaturian wasn’t meant to be a mother. But is she responsible for making her son a monster? Society seems to think so. In the wake of a horrific attack orchestrated by Kevin, a sadistic fifteen-year-old psychopath, Eva (Tilda Swinton) is heckled on the street and sometimes outright attacked by people who lost their loved ones in the tragedy.

    In a swirl of fever dream-like memories, past becomes present, and Eva remembers when her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and kids Kevin and Celie (Ezra Miller and Ashley Gerasimovich) were still with her. Eva never seemed to really want Kevin, a vile, evil, perpetually incontinent child turned killer teen who mind-fucked his mother from a very early age, but the real question is whether Eva could stop the direction her son was going.

   Franklin, a happy guy in denial of Kevin’s true nature, condemns Eva for not connecting with her little moppet, and Kevin simultaneously gaslights Eva and turns Eva and her well-meaning but dopey husband against each other. Kevin might seem like a child of Satan or some other supernatural incarnate, but really he’s like thousands of other children in the world who really don’t seem to have a conscience- and who better to blame than the boy’s own mother?

Anyone who has seen filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher knows she has a propensity for both beautiful cinematography and grueling bleakness. We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on the best-selling novel by the same title by Lionel Shriver, is no exception. The film is intensely visual, with a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, especially around the beginning, and benefits from an outstanding performance by Tilda Swinton as the complex Eva.

Eva seems alternately like a bad mother and all-around ice queen and a woman trying to do best by her family, and one must wonder if her memory (and by extension, the whole movie’s narrative) is reliable as she paints a terrifying portrait of Kevin literally from babyhood to present day. The movie asks the question of whether we can always blame the parents of these children for the kids’ evil actions or if some youngsters are just bad eggs.

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The answer to this question is often ambiguous here, but ultimately we decide that no, we can’t ultimately blame Eva for how ‘widdle Kevin’ turned out. It brings up the aged-old question of ‘nature vs. nurture’ in a new and interesting way, and packs a hell of a wallop in the process. This movie will make you think twice about going off the pill and make you wonder if having a little ball of joy of your own is overrated.

The part near the end of the movie at the school when Kevin’s plan goes full circle makes me think of a extra I saw on my parents’ DVD of the original Halloween. Donald Pleasence, who played Sam Loomis, told the director that he could play the sequence when Myers falls out the window after getting shot and somehow escapes into thin air one of two ways; ‘Oh my God, he’s gone’ or ‘I knew this would happen.’ Ultimately they decided on the latter because the former would be, well, too much.

That’s what I think of when I see Eva’s expression as she eyes the bicycle locks Kevin previously ordered in the mail on the doors of the school auditorium. Her expression is less a look of shocked horror as it is a look of resignation. I knew this would happen. On one hand, you wonder why Eva didn’t get her son major psychological help right off the bat, but on the other, could she really of prevented Kevin’s insanity if she had? After all, when you have a blissfully ignorant husband who refuses to believe your son has a problem, how are you going to get an evaluation carried out without his blessing?

All in all, We Need to Talk About Kevin is kind of like watching a train wreck, albeit a visually striking one with a handful of outstanding shots. It makes us women, whether we plan to be mothers or not, wonder how far maternal love goes and if you can be held culpable simply for not loving your child enough. Is it possible to love a monster? I think so. People do it all the time.

But for someone like Eva who obviously didn’t want to be a mother in the first place, her failure to love her son was ultimately ammunition for her evil child to use against her. Eva’s coldness is not an excuse for Kevin’s behavior anymore than Kevin being a difficult baby is an excuse for Eva to make very little effort with her offspring. One persons’ blame does not cancel the others’ out. But that’s not enough for other parent not to convince themselves that they could do better. Given the circumstances, could you?

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The Other by Thomas Tryon

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Being an identical twin can be murder. Just ask Niles Perry, a well-mannered thirteen-year-old whose twin brother Holland possesses a sadistic streak and a penchant for causing deadly ‘accidents.’ Niles both loves, fears, and is in intense awe of his enigmatic brother, but all is not what it seems in Thomas Tryon’s Gothic psychological horror novel.

I had a rocky start with this novel, because I kept on wondering how Niles could not suspect his brother of wrongdoing. I was relieved to find, however, that the (cleverly wrought) twist midway through the book rendered these concerns obsolete. If Niles seems outrageously naïve, that just makes the revelation all the more effective.

Novelist Thomas Tryon evokes the homey mystique of a 30’s Connecticut farming town. Pequot Landing, as it so happens, is an idyllic place to grow up for children who are independent and reasonably well-adjusted, because of the freedom such a locale offers (kids can go wherever they want and do whatever they want, within reason,) but the stifling gossip of the town ladies also makes it important to tread carefully while within earshot of anyone who might decide they want your family problems as fodder for discussion.

For the Perry’s, for which insanity seems to  run in the family, the continual stream of hearsay is never-ending. If you can get by Tryon’s penchant for long, elaborate, needlessly wordy sentences, ‘The Other’ might prove to be your new favorite creepy-cool summer read. You might be surprised that despite the fact that it was published in 1971, it’s aged quite well and doesn’t seem watered-down in terms of horror by jaded modern standards.

There are deaths a-plenty in “The Other,” and the one that bothered me most (even more than the particularly taboo murder at the end) was the demise of elderly widow Mrs. Rowe. Damn it she just wanted to have some tea and lemonade with the local children! Why must the lonely old bird be treated so? :_(

“The Other” makes you think about what people do to keep their loved ones out of the mental health system, and how that initial act of mercy can prove to be destructive later on. Doesn’t the boys’ Russian grandmother, Ada, know her grandson is a raving lunatic? Of course she does. But she refuses to anticipate the consequences of keeping such a boy at home with her, and her naiveté is punished tenfold.

I’ve heard of people whose family members continually lashed out at them; people who’s loved ones had to be locked in their room at night. In the end, the decision lies with the caregiver, but sometimes it’s not only easier, but kinder just to let go. This is an extreme version of a situation many people deal with- the seemingly impossible challenge of loving and caring for a severely emotionally disturbed child.

Ultimately, I think Tryon is too hard on old Ada. Yes, it was her ‘game’ that led to much of the insanity in the first place. But she is only human. And If the game had never came to be? What? Tragedy may have been avoided, but sociopathy and madness still ran thick in the Perry’s blood. While Ada’s final act seemed somewhat out of character, it was a decision born of extreme desperation, not evil or cruelty.

Although I found Niles annoying throughout (though he seemed surprisingly less so after I found out the twist,) I thought ‘The Other’ was a chillingly rendered, deliciously Gothic read. I love those kind of Gothic stories involving family secrets and sequestered craziness, so this was right up my alley. Now I want to rent the movie.