Tag Archives: best

Movie Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

I saw this movie several weeks ago but I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It just had that kind of an effect on me.

Based on Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed 2003 novel (which I have not read), We Need to Talk About Kevin follows a grieving mother (Tilda Swinton) as she tries to come to terms with a horrific atrocity committed by her teenage son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).

I had some idea about the premise but I had no idea how or why things turned out the way they did, which still enabled the film to be very effective as the story is interspersed with various chronological flashbacks, from Kevin’s conception until “present day”. We see Swinton’s character, Eva, at the start of it all, a young, carefree woman full of hopes and desires, and we see the way she is now, barely a shell of a person — and these flashbacks slowly peel away the layers until the two versions of her merge into one.

It’s not often that a film makes me feel physically compelled to keep watching or makes me feel emotionally drained by the end of it , but We Need to Talk About Kevin manages to do both. It’s an old cliche, but the film truly is a parent’s worst nightmare. As a new parent myself, watching Eva struggle to bond with Kevin — who might as well be called Damien — is gut wrenching and terrifying. In fact, although the movie would be traditionally categorised as a drama, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it a horror.

This is a film that raises a lot of questions about the role of a parent in bringing up a child, as well as the nature vs nurture debate. Was Kevin born evil or did she make him that way despite her best efforts? What can you do when a child simply refuses to listen and is intent on making your life hell? And what can you do when your partner has no idea what is going on?

With all due respect to Meryl Streep’s Oscar win for her portrayal of The Iron Lady (which I intend to review shortly), Tilda Swinton should have claimed the statuette for the performance of her career. She was simply heartbreaking as Eva, and I could feel her anguish, pain and despair as though her emotions were my own. Her ability to convey Eva’s conflicting feelings towards Kevin was simply incredible and I have a hard time coming up with another actress who could have taken the character to the same level.

Ezra Miller also did very well as the chilling titular character (though perhaps a little overdone at times), as did John C Miller in a surprisingly good performance as the oblivious husband Franklin, but this was without a doubt Swinton’s movie. It’s one of those rare films that captivated me from start to finish and had me sitting in silence through the credits, shattered by what I had just seen.

I don’t have much more to say about We Need to Talk About Kevin except that I highly recommend it. For me, it was undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2011, and when all is said and done, probably the year’s most memorable.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Moneyball (2011)

To me, there is simply something romantic about the sport of baseball.  It really is the only sport where anything can happen until the last out and sometimes does.

The biographical sports drama, Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller (Capote) and starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, does an outstanding job of capturing the essence of that romance.  Based on the Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, it tells the true story of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane (Pitt) and his attempt to use sabermetrics (basically statistical observations) to build a winning baseball team with limited money. It sounds kinda lame, I know — I thought it would be a boring movie too — but somehow, Moneyball works as a moving drama that hits all the right emotional notes.

Moneyball is, at its heart, an underdog story. Beane was a high school standout that made it to the majors but failed to live up to expectations, and as GM of the Athletics, he constantly faced an uphill battle with one of the smallest budgets in the MLB and constantly losing good players because they can’t afford them. By chance, he comes across Peter Brand (Hill), a young Yale economics grad who introduces him to sabermetrics, a system of player selection that was ridiculed and almost regarded as blasphemous amongst Beane’s old (in experience and age) staff.

Personally, I knew very little about what actually happened in real life, which made Moneyball an exhilarating experience to watch. If it wasn’t a true story I would assumed it was too good to be true — you really can’t make this kind of drama up. And full credit to Miller for approaching the story with a steady hand and the requisite subtlety, without overplaying things too much, something a lesser director easily could have done. It’s not so much the baseball action as it is the action behind the baseball, if you know what I mean.

As a result, Moneyball achieves the rare feat of being a sports movie that doesn’t feel bogged down by cliches. It helps that the baseball action looks incredibly authentic, and you could have fooled me into believing that what I was watching was real game footage.

The screenplay by Steve Zaillian and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) also plays a big part in the film’s success. As is typical of Sorkin’s writing, Moneyball‘s screenplay is witty and sharp, with awesome dialogue and no wasted words.

But of course, it’s the terrific performance of Brad Pitt that anchors the film from start to finish. I’m not sure about an Oscar win, but the nomination was certainly well-deserved. I can’t say I can agree with Jonah Hill’s nomination for best supporting actor though. Sure, it’s one of the rare times he isn’t playing an obnoxious bozo, but was his supporting performance really one of the top five of the year?

The only other minor complaint I have is the slightly over long 133 minute running time, but given the amount of things that happen throughout the film I didn’t find it that big of a deal.

I’m not sure if you need to be a baseball fan to appreciate film, but for me, Moneyball was a personal delight — a film about taking chances, believing in yourself, and ultimately, knowing what is important.

4.5 stars out of 5!

PS: Young Kerris Dorsey, who plays Pitt’s daughter, almost steals the show with her few scenes. I am currently hooked on her rendition of Lenka’s The Show, which has a key role in the film.



Movie Review: The Ides of March (2011)

I really need to get a move on.  It’s almost the end of 2011 and there are too many potentially good movies to be watched before 2012.  And so I began my (hopeful) end-of-year movie blitz with a 2012 Oscar frontrunner, The Ides of March, directed by, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

I’m a sucker for political dramas (I thought the 1998 John Travolta film Primary Colors was fantastic), and so I had high hopes for this film, which also stars some of my favourite actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei.  However, The Ides of March really belongs to Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress with a controlled, Oscar-worthy performance as Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s (potential) Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris.

Without giving away too much, the film follows the young, bright and extremely capable Meyers as he tries to assist Pennsylvania Governor Morris in securing the state of Ohio in the Democrat’s presidential candidate race against an Arkansas Senator.  Securing Ohio effectively clinches the nomination (and essentially the White House), so it’s a big deal, but both Meyers and Morris are idealists who want to run the race with integrity and without compromising their values.  However, as they both find out throughout the course of the film, politics is a dirty game where the lines and boundaries and continually being pushed and blurred.  To what extremes will they go in order to get what they want?

I won’t divulge more than that except to say that The Ides of March is, at its core, a somewhat cynical political tale about the loss of innocence.  It begins slowly and is what some would call a slow burner, so it won’t be for everyone.  But I enjoyed every minute of it.  Apart from giving viewers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the shady deals, compromises and grey areas in these political processes — daily battles with competitors, internal power struggles, schmoozing journalists and smoothing out scandals — the stylish intensity that underlies the film from start to finish really elevates this otherwise unremarkable story (if you think about it)  to one of the best dramas of the year.

The perfect performances from the awesome cast must receive a significant chunk of the credit.  Gosling has already been nominated once (for Half Nelson in 2006), and this could be the year he takes out Best Actor at the Oscars.  Clooney (Syriana), Hoffman (Capote) and Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) are all Oscar winners and Giamatti is a multiple nominee, and each brings a touch of class to their character — all of whom possess a different side to what is originally presented.  And Evan Rachel Wood, who has a key role as a Morris campaign intern, is surprisingly good and steals a lot of scenes (no mean feat considering the company).

The Ides of March is a clever, well-executed drama with impeccable performances.  It’s probably not for the casual filmgoer looking for light, fast-paced thrills, but I think lovers of (American) politics and serious dramas will thoroughly enjoy it.

4.5 stars out of 5