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Film Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Genuinely unsettling; We Need to Talk About Kevin dives head first into subject matter seldom spoken about but feared by most.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin will resonate differently with each individual. It is a story as much about childbirth and the bond or lack thereof between mother and child as it is about the concept of nature versus nurture and trying to understand what makes people bad. One thing that will be agreed upon by all viewers however is the troubling nature of the film, not only the destructive behavior of its titular character but also the prospect of parenthood in all its uncelebrated warts and all glory. We Need to Talk About Kevin might just be the most unsettling movie of 2011 and is so without any of the violence or gore we have come to identify the word with in film.

As soon as the title screen fades to black director Lynne Ramsay’s film based on the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name begins an unrelenting and overwhelmingly tense experience that would make even the most celebrated horror film maker green with envy. Those already familiar with Shriver’s book will understand what’s coming and why Kevin needs to be spoken about. For those of us that haven’t read the source material Ramsay makes it quite clear early on that lead character Eva’s, a gripping Tilda Swinton, life has been irreversibly changed by her son Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) destructive nature in his teenage years to which the film is set.

The film is spent with a disconnected Eva reflecting on the past, specifically motherhood and Kevin’s upbringing, questioning what went wrong and how her parenting moulded her son and might of lead to his behavior as a teenager. Ramsay achieves this through a series of extremely well executed flashbacks which do a  good job of distorting time and reality. It is unclear throughout the film how much of these flashbacks are real and how much are blurred due to Eva being an unreliable narrator accounting her and Kevin’s relationship and his (in Eva’s eyes) inherent evilness, especially towards her. Shriver’s original novel; a series of letters from Eva to her husband conveys her untrustworthiness as a narrator much clearer than in the film. Ramsay has done a marvelous job in translating the letter structure without a voice over but it results in some scenes where Kevin resembles something more out of The Omen rather than a realistic young rebellious boy, something that will remove the film from reality for some viewers unfamiliar with the bestselling book. Although Ramsay subtly and not so subtly hints that some scenes are exaggerated by Eva I couldn’t help but feel the more over the top interactions between mother and child hurt the film as a whole.

As much as we do need to talk about Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Kevin, this film is all about Tilda Swinton’s Eva. Eva is a broken shell of a person, exiled and ridiculed by the community she tortures herself by remaining in. Swinton is as mesmerising as some of the breathtaking shots captured by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. In her family life Eva is a cold and dominant figure, as a mother she fails to connect with her child on any level and is uninterested in the domestic life her new-born son inflicts on her. Swinton it seems has made a career (at least in the multiplexes) of playing this type of unlikable character, yet here she is vulnerable and sweet throughout the film, strangely even as that cold and dominant figure. Ezra Miller as Eva’s son Kevin is equally compelling if not terrifying. He is as cold as his mother and an ever ominous presence from the first time Eva recollects him. The interactions between mother and teenager (Swinton and Miller) are the most thought-provoking and gut wrenching to watch. Their chemistry is undeniable even in the most disconcerting of scenes.

Genuinely unsettling; We Need to Talk About Kevin dives head first into subject matter seldom spoken about but feared by most. Losing your identity after having a child, the resentment and despair some parents feel when they are unable to connect with their newborn and the fight to love someone you don’t really like. Ramsay like Shriver before her question what impact we have on our offspring and how much of a parent’s emotion, struggles and nurturing shape their children into adolescence and then adulthood. For Eva these questions are a constant torturous battle to figure out what went wrong.

Verdict: See this.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fascinating yet gut wrenching movie going experience. Ramsay’s subtleness is the films only real weakness as some scenes suspend belief too much too vaguely. However thanks to two incredible performances for two justly memorable characters this is a film that captivates its audience from start to finish.  

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
Run Time: 112 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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