We Need To Talk About Kevin ~ Worth Talking About

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Tilda Swinton & John C. Reilly

Wow.  I am still reeling from this one…I think this is going to be one of those that really sticks with me long after I’ve seen it.  (Sidenote: I viewed this on 1/24/12 and now that I’m entering this review well after the fact, I can say with certainty that I was right!  It did indeed stay with me…perhaps longer than I’d have liked, which is, in my experience, truly an indication of its power.)

I knew going in that it was going to be disturbing and difficult subject matter, though not how it would be presented or play out.  Indeed it was horrifically harrowing, yet I was engrossed and engaged from start to finish.  Though it left some questions unanswered (and there were a few aspects with which I took issue), overall I thought it was a superbly-done and extremely well-acted film.

We learn early on that the son (the Kevin of the title) – and first child – of Tilda Swinton’s character, Eva, commits some sort of heinous act on par with a Columbine or other such violent school tragedy.  We are, bit by bit, led to the final reveal of that through both flashbacks and scenes set in the present day.  It does quite a nice job of building characters and setting the stage without revealing too much.  In fact, nothing quite prepares you for the extent of the tragedy that ensues…

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Pina ~ Poetry in Motion

Director: Wim Wenders

I made a special trip to a theater nowhere near my neighborhood (and in L.A., that really means something!) in order to see this documentary in 3D.  I’m glad I saw it, but my feelings about it shifted throughout the film…  

…the phrases that played (danced?) across my mind as I watched the film were…bizarrely brilliant, weirdly wonderful, and mystifyingly mesmerizing.  Just when I would begin to think that I wasn’t “getting it” or that it was just too avante garde for me, it would draw me back in and take my breath away.

Pina is a Wim Wenders film dedicated to the late, great dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009 (though we’re never told at what age or how ~ it’s only alluded to that she went suddenly or, as some of her dancers put it, “too fast”).  It is Bausch’s work that is featured primarily throughout the film, interspersed with snippets of “interviews” with her international band of dancers, which really only give us their experiences of her.  We never get any sort of biographical information about Bausch, of which I’d have liked more.  The interviews (and I use that term loosely), are unique in that they, in many instances, use few words, instead using close-ups of facial expressions (in fact, in a few cases, no words are spoken ~ all feelings regarding Bausch and each dancer’s experience with her are communicated solely through the faces of the dancers being interviewed).  It’s actually quite remarkable ~ and is perhaps perfectly fitting given the art form being celebrated: dance/movement in place of words to convey emotion ~ pain, love, longing, loneliness, loss, joy, laughter, even aging…

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011, US Version) ~ Fire & Ice

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard

I LOVED this movie!!  Having not read Stieg Larsson‘s book, nor yet seen the Swedish adaptation of the movie, I was in virgin territory here…and found it entirely engrossing and entertaining from beginning to end.  I was concerned that at 2 hours, 38 minutes it would feel too long, but it didn’t.  At ALL.  The pacing is perfect, building with a steady intensity (and ferocity) to a point where the suspense and tension become almost unbearable, in only the best sense of the word.

I was expecting to be startled out of my skin at every moment in the lead-up to the climax.  I’m not even sure I “connected all the dots” (there are a lot of players and details of which to keep track and I lacked the background knowledge that reading the book surely would have provided me), but I understood enough to thoroughly appreciate the ride as well as the conclusion.

The film is gorgeously shot and framed ~ clean, sleek, sharp and crisp ~ just like the chilly, icy Swedish landscapes in which it takes place.  And yet there is heat generated throughout by the consistently talented Daniel Craig, playing the smart and (at least here) sexy journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  Craig’s clear blue eyes are as striking as ever and his body is in top form ~ he looks as though he should be modeling every article of clothing he dons (whether a sweater and scarf, flannel pajamas or even bikini briefs) in a magazine.  So there’s the guilty pleasure of that eye candy on top of the across-the-board great acting and intriguing story…

Rooney Mara is utterly magnetic as Lisbeth Salander, the razor sharp detective/computer hacker Blomkvist employs to assist him in solving the murder mystery he has been assigned.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her anytime she was on screen ~ and whether or not I was supposed to, I sympathized with her from the outset and increasingly so throughout.  (She wordlessly broke my heart at the film’s end.)  She is mysterious, alluring, fiercely contained, a somewhat androgynous bi-sexual ~ a fascinating, and multi-layered character.  Mara completely and convincingly transforms herself INTO the role ~ she becomes Lisbeth.  I have great respect for her performance here ~ as contained as it is, much about her character is revealed.

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A Separation (2012, Iran)

Director: Asgar Farhadi

Around year’s end, I began to see this film on nearly every Top 10 film list I laid eyes on.  (And indeed, it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars.)  So after all the hoopla, I must say I expected to like it more than I did.  That said, I certainly appreciated it…particularly the immense complexity of the situation which ensues and how each and every character is effected by it.

The film does a spectacular job of presenting each character in such a way that you empathize with every one of them, even if at times you also want to scream in frustration at them and/or question/disagree with their actions.  All sides and all of the reasoning and thought processes of the characters manage to be conveyed, which is quite a feat considering how intricately layered the story is.

We are looking at issues as far-ranging as familial loyalty (on multiple levels ~ care of elderly parents as well as of children), the collapse/disintegration of a marriage and its effect on the couple’s (wise beyond her years) adolescent daughter, trying to make ends meet and the lengths to which one must go in order to survive, religious beliefs and conviction, accusations of theft and murder, the Iranian legal system, honesty vs. dishonesty (or perhaps more fittingly here, truth vs. lies), trust vs. doubt…all within the context of two hours.     

It is an emotionally daring and draining film, one which actually left me feeling rather cold and empty, which is somewhat surprising given that all of the characters involved in the story are sympathetic and ultimately just trying to survive and care for those they love.  It’s most disturbing to see the detrimental (and it is assumed permanently scarring) effect the events have on the children of the parents involved, particularly the 11-year old daughter (who appeared much older and far more mature than most 11-year-olds I know), who is, more than once, left (forced?) to determine the course of the fate of both her parents and herself, a cruel and unusual punishment for one so young and innocent. I felt SO deeply sorry and sad for her for the pain, confusion, fear, sadness, doubt, pressure and trauma she was clearly experiencing.  Which makes the movie’s conclusion (or more accurately lack thereof) all the more effective (if not emotionally torturous), as we are left waiting outside a courtroom, alongside her parents, to learn with which parent she has chosen to live.  We feel at once both the anticipation and the helpless resignation of each parent as they await word of their only child’s decision.  And truly, I couldn’t say which she would choose.  A wrenching ending to a wrenching story.

Hugo ~ A Film Lover’s Dream

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sasha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer

This was an absolute DELIGHT of a film!  (One of my favorites of the year, in fact…and apparently, one of the Academy’s as well, as it led the pack with 11 Oscar nominations this year.)  Fantastical, imaginative, magical…one of the rare instances in which 3D actually enhances the viewing experience (thank you, Marty, for venturing into this territory!)

Scorsese ~ Director playing director!

It is a visually stunning (Paris has never looked so breathtakingly gorgeous on film) love letter to the movies, told through the eyes and hearts of young and old alike, irresistible to any true lover of film.

A pure pleasure from start to finish, it is a heart-warming story about a determined orphaned boy, whose wide clear blue eyes dazzle and mesmerize each time they fill the screen.  The friendship that develops between the two young protagonists is tenderly developed.  The film is sweetly touching (I was moved to tears multiple times), with both an adventure and a mystery held within its narrative, each of which are satisfyingly concluded with an encouraging and empowering message: to follow and pursue one’s passions.

The true magic of the movies is illustrated in every conceivable way in Hugo…it is a must-see for all ages!