Tag Archives: Ezra Miller

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 Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

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What happens at Stanford, stays at Stanford. Just when you were starting to feel good-ish about humankind, a movie like this comes out and reminds you what dicks we can be. It’s an important lesson, if not a pretty one, that for some people, the adrenaline rush of power for the sake of power is enough to make them do pretty much anything.

In 1971, real life psychologist and sociologist Philip Zimbardo (played here by Billy Crudup) put out an ad in the paper offering $15.00 a day for male college students to be participants in a social experiment. On paper, it seemed like an easy way to make money. The boys were screened for any psychological and health problems and instructed to play ‘guards’ and ‘convicts’ in a faux prison environment- the basement of Stanford university.

The experiment would serve as a commentary on the dynamics of a environment where guards were given some degree of power over prisoners, and question whether the penal system is more detrimental than it is beneficiary. The ‘guards’ were not allowed to hit the ‘prisoners.’ he ‘prisoners’ were safe in a controlled, essentially benign (if creepy and weird) environment. At least that’s what they were told. If you know anything about the real-life scenario that inspired this movie, you may be aware of how fast the shit hit the fan.

Most people who assume that the reason prisons get so out of control with riots and mishaps and guards and convicts kicking the crap out of each other is (a, we aren’t exactly dealing with regular people in these criminals, and criminals, as we know, can have propensity for violence and (b guards are less likely to view men or women who have committed illegal acts as human and deserving of good treatment. It’s the same psyche as conservatives who complain that prisons are ‘too good’ for convicts. They screwed up, right? The should be paying the price. One bread-and-water meal a day and hard labor all the way, baby!

But these were regular college students. They had no criminal record, no prior psychological challenges, no reason to hate or despise each other. That’s why it came as such a surprise to Zimbardo when one of the youths Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano,) took charge in the worst possible way. Adopting a persona he learned from “Cool Hand Luke,” Archer coerced his fake prisoners and twirled his nightstick (why did they give them nightsticks anyway?) occasionally stopping his twirling long enough to beat someone senseless.

Zimbardo, fascinated with the monster he had created, allowed the experiment to go on far longer than it should have, even after two ‘prisoners’ (Tye Sheridan and Ezra Miller) suffered nervous breakdowns. Like the omnipresent Big Brother, Zimbardo watched the youths operate with a hidden camera, and later wrote a book about how ‘regular’ people can be convinced to commit unconscionable acts though mob mentality, ‘The Lucifer Effect,’  which later became this movie.

I watched this movie convinced of two things, 1., that Christopher was an undiagnosed sociopath (he smiles glibly and rattles off his stupid “Cool Hand Luke” accent even when the ‘experiment’ becomes a hostage situation) and that 2. Zimbardo was probably a latently homosexual sadomasochist, achieving a hard-on at the mere mention of defrocked boys being slammed against walls. There is an often-seen look on his face as he watches events unfold that goes beyond the realm of scientific curiosity and into flat-out arousal.

It is only when actual sexual degradation is achieved that he has a change of heart and cancels the experiment. But before that: boys forcing other boys to defecate in buckets and being locked in the dark, claustrophobic ‘Hole’ (kind of the real life version of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Chokey’)- all okay.

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a stimulating watch that should be viewed by sociology students and people interested in the human mind. The whole cast is good (with the possible exception of Olivia Thirlby as Zimbardo’s much-younger girlfriend, who didn’t impress me) and it achieves a kind of slow-burn as the situation gradually becomes a swirling shit-storm of unintended consequences.

I do think the film was a little long at just over two hours (perhaps it could have been cut down by ten minutes or so.) If ‘Lord of the Flies’ interested you on a psychological as well as a literary level, and you are interested in apparently normal people acting in group mentality and doing awful things that wouldn’t otherwise be carried out with a clear conscience, this is the movie for you. It’s not a horror movie. It’s barely even a thriller. Just a crazy real-life story about impressionable college kids going absolutely apeshit in a secluded environment. In Stanford, where no one can hear you scream… It’s a movie best left for a certain audience, but a worthy watch all the same.

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Afterschool (2008)

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Best described as a ‘Haneke film that is not by Haneke,’ “Afterschool’ is just good enough to make you respect the filmmaker while wishing he would adopt a style of his own. Mostly though, it makes you think that director Antonio Campos has seen “Cache” and Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” way too many times, and has tried to copy their approach with middling results (although “Afterschool” is less boring and better acted than Van Sant’s supposed classic, he doesn’t hold a candle to Haneke at his best.)

In a world of prep school jerks and uncaring adults, disaffected Robert (Ezra Miller) is just trying to stay afloat while dealing with violent tendencies and teen libido- we first meet him wanking to a particularly exploitive porn video. It’s hard to feel partial to him after that. His mom is overly preoccupied with him being ‘okay’ (not applicable for medication or an extra minute of her time) and not in the least concerned with him being happy. In his fancy-schmancy boarding school, he simply floats through life- barely regarded by his group of friends, engaging in schoolwork he could care less about- he is dulled. deadened, and perhaps worst of all, bored.

Robert has a preference (I hesitate to say ‘passion’) for videos of all kinds- from laughing babies and jokester cats to videotaped schoolyard fights and amateur pornography. He is a symbol of our short attention-spanned, gratified-at-the-click-of-a-button society. Seeing these clips, the footage of giggling children seems equally as ‘wrong’ and voyeuristic as the more hardcore videos. They are rendered eerie and uncanny by the context of the movie. When two young girls (Mary and Carly Michelson) OD while Robert films, he is sucked into a fallout among the students and staff- but with how much is Robert complicit?

You won’t necessarily find the answer within this film, but “Afterschool” does prove to be an interesting (if well-worn by more established directors) experiment. Known for his roles in films such as “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of being a Wallflower, then- barely pubescent Ezra Miller is eerily apathetic and effective here. While I’d argue that the last shot was a example of breaking the fourth wall (Robert is ‘filmed’ by the complacent audience,) there’s enough of a mystery element to the conclusion to keep the viewer thinking if they wish.

However, “Afterschool”‘s preoccupation with being deliberately obtuse makes it quite a frustrating experience, and the social commentary is a little obvious for this kind of film. It’s  showy in the way of “Funny Games” (Haneke’s weakest film)- they’re pushing the bumbling incompetence of adults, the apathy of our kids, and the brokenness of our society in our faces. In the end I didn’t care too much whether Robert killed the girls or whether his friend Dave (Jeremy Allen White) was to blame- I didn’t long for it to be over, but I wasn’t exactly sucked in by it either.

Ultimately, while Campos’ cold, calculating cinematic method and long, still shots of nothing happening at all might appeal to Haneke fanboys, I found it to be too derivative of that filmmaker to be anything of consequence. It’s okay- but movie like this (art, not entertainment) can’t be just okay- it really has to pull you in, making its world yours. If anything, this movie will just make you develop a further distaste for entitled rich kids and the preppy mischief they make.

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