Justice League

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”)
Written by: Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

To get the obvious questions out of the way first, no, “Justice League” isn’t anywhere near as good as this summer’s “Wonder Woman,” nor is it as bad as last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

It’s fine.

That this latest entry in the DC Extended Universe—Warner Bros.’ somewhat knee-jerk response to the success Marvel is having—is even coherent is a minor miracle, after months of reshoots and what must’ve been a mountain of studio notes. That the characters, including holdovers Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and newcomers Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, are actually fun and engaging (for the most part) is a neat surprise.

Taking place a year after the events of “BvS” left Earth without its Kryptonian hero (Henry Cavill, here softly rebooted as a corny beacon of hope instead of the grim, put-upon Jesus the previous films made him out to be), “Justice League” finds Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) working with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to put together a team of “meta-humans” to combat a coming threat, heralded by flying, fear-sensing bug-monster things called parademons. Turns out those things are the minions of Steppenwolf (a PlayStation 2 CGI creation voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and he’s come to Earth to re-collect some cubes called Mother Boxes to turn the planet into a recreation of his hellish homeworld, which would suck. And since Earth is now without Superman, there’s no one to stop Steppenwolf…except for the Justice League.

Like I mentioned earlier, “Justice League” is fine, even after the change late in the game from original director Zack Snyder—who stepped down due to a family tragedy—to “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. Numerous reshoots seem to have reshaped the movie dramatically, grafting Whedon-y humor onto Snyder’s shiny, grimy aesthetic. The story is boilerplate superhero bullshit, but there’s a moment in the middle of the film, when the team first fights together, that this mess gels into something entertaining—it takes you past the flaws like the truly shitty special effects, the boring-ass villain, and the short-changing of newcomers Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Jason Momoa. There was hope that the DCEU ship had been righted after “Wonder Woman,” released only five months ago, and “Justice League” doesn’t really answer that question in the affirmative—but maybe “not as bad as it could have been” is enough of a victory for now.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

September 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby
Directed by: Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“C.O.G.”)
Written by: Tim Talbott (debut)

In 1971, psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted one of the most controversial psychological experiments in history. Bringing together a group of student volunteers to play both guards and prisoners, Zimbardo’s intentions were to simulate a prison environment and study the abusive behaviors within the prison system. What happened, however, was that everyone, including Zimbardo himself, become entrenched and absorbed into their roles and psychological degradation, humiliation, and empowerment began. Almost 45 years later, these events are brought to the big screen in Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”

The cast is a veritable who’s who of young actors who have been in minor, but effective roles. Actors like Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller and Johnny Simmons are among a few of the actors who are great in their roles as prisoners. As each of the prisoners slowly unravel under the pressure from the guards, each actor gets to add more and more nuance and dramatic ability to their performance. On the guard side of things, Michael Angarano plays the sternest guard who takes satisfaction out of antagonizing everyone. At first as a joke, Angarano’s Christopher Archer invents an accent and swagger. As things progress, he starts to become this character and Angarano’s performance starts to get over the top. It is intentional and even necessary to show how far the guards, especially Archer, took it, but Angarano ends up feeling way too cartoonish to take seriously.

There’s a sense of real tension and discomfort that flows through “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” The film is at its best showing an unflinching portrayal of normal people who knew they only in an experiment becoming influenced, swept up in their designed roles and convinced that what they were experiencing was real. Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup in the film) himself served as a consultant on the film and most of the conversations are lifted from actual transcripts from the experiment itself, which adds to the unease. One of the most effective things about “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is how Alvarez  perfectly captures how good-natured and amusing the experiment seemed at first and how it turned on a dime. As a study of human behavior, it’s fascinating to watch the turn of simulation blending into reality and the effects on the psyche of everyone involved from the guards, to the prisoners, down to the designers of the experimenters themselves.

If there’s a complaint to be had, it is that the film could have used a little bit of condensing. Redundant scenes of abusive behavior are hammered a little too hard and a little tightening up in the editing bay could have made the film feel a lot shorter. Well-shot, designed and with a keen 70’s aesthetic, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a slickly made and accurate portrait of one of the most stunning social experiments ever done and will serve as a great conversation piece for psychology students and movie-goers alike.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

October 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky (debut)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“Rent”)

As the music swelled and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” cut to black, I felt a twinge of regret that the teenage version of myself didn’t have this film (or the book it was adapted from, for that matter) to both obsess over and hold up as a parallel to my high school life, accurate or not. What self-diagnosed misunderstood teenage male can’t identify with being an outsider or suffering through the ultimate tragedy that is unrequited love?

While I venture on into my 30s, though, these things become embarrassing relics from a life gone by. What is it about high school that activates the mopey, me-against-the-world response in some people? Life wasn’t that bad, you know? As such, if you’re a pre-Millennial, “Wallflower” may make you wonder why you were such an insufferable teenage ass.

Written and directed by the book’s author Stephen Chbosky, “Wallflower” begins with Charlie’s (Logan Lerman) first day of high school. An undercurrent of tragedy and awkwardness follow Charlie as he ventures into the maw of early-’90s teenage culture, where no one has a cell phone and the preferred method of expressing your deepest feelings for someone was via mix tape. Friendless and skittish, Charlie takes a chance and latches on to gay class clown Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his beautiful, music-savvy step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie finds happiness in both friends and in school, thanks to the attention of English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) fostering Charlie’s love of reading with a steady diet of angst-filled teenage literature like “Catcher in the Rye” and “A Separate Peace.” And all the while Charlie finds himself falling in love with the unavailable Sam.

While the modern teenage experience may remains timeless, the details add a timeliness that might trip up the casual viewer. The gentle suggestion of the time period, the early-’90s, both helps and hurts the world of the film. The production design mostly avoids obvious fashion choices, sparing the audience from reliving the wardrobe styles of “Saved by the Bell,” but the pre-smartphone lifestyle may be difficult for today’s teens to grasp. After all, one of the plot points involve the main characters not being able to figure out what the name of the song was they heard on the radio once. Nevermind that’s it’s obviously David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Even this grizzled 33-year-old can can just barely remember when that was a real world problem–which is a recurring theme, as it were.

In the end, though, “Wallflower” has the vibe of a sad rock song: maybe all the details don’t line up exactly with your life, but when one or two do, damn…it feels like it’s speaking only to you.

Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin

March 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In director Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” actor Ezra Miller (“City Island”) plays title character Kevin Khatchadourian, a high school student whose unaffectionate and ambiguous relationship with his mother (Tilda Swinton) leads to a horrific massacre at the hands of the young man.

During an interview with me, Miller, 19, talked about playing such a disturbed individual and how developing a friendship with Swinton off camera made it easier to clash with her character during the shoot.

Where do you have to be emotionally as an actor to tap into someone as chilling as your character?

For me there was a wide variety of things. I found in Kevin there was something dualistic about his nature in a sense that his rational justification and actions are not necessarily representative of his internal motivations and true feelings. So, there was a sort of process of evolving before we started shooting the true internal condition of this character. The horrifying reality I found was that Kevin is an empathetic human being though he may not appear that way. Internally, he is experiencing a vast range of human emotion. He is tortured by the fact that he is deprived of one essential thing we are all entitled to: the love of a mother.

Personally, do you think Kevin’s problems come solely from the thoughts he is creating in his own mind or do they stem from his mother’s indifference during her pregnancy and his childhood?

I think that’s what you have to ponder in the film. You never really know where nature ends and nurture begins. I, myself, feel like they are intrinsically tied together. The development of a child on a physical and neurological level is happening from the instant the child is born and even in prenatal stages. I think the relationship a child has with his mother is very specific to that child’s neurological development.

I actually saw this film about a month after I had my first child, so thanks for scaring the hell out of me.

(Laughs) Oh, man. I must apologize. I had no way of knowing. Hopefully, there was a glimmer of hope and a lesson to be learned through all of the horror and bloodshed.

Is it easy to leave a role like this on the set, or do you take it home with you? If you do leave it on set, how do you not think about it?

Certainly I felt that I had the same emotional and physical condition of Kevin for the entire month we shot the film. It was strenuous and grueling, but it was also essential for me. I didn’t want to have to consciously tap into the emotional and physical conditions of Kevin. I wanted them to exist so I could focus on the rational mind of Kevin and how he’s using intelligent justification for his actions. It was a process that had me holding that condition inside my gut for the entirety of the shoot, which provided for a stark release when it was finally over. When it was over, I was able to let that character go and go play a drum in the woods.

What kind of off-camera relationship did you have with Tilda Swinton? Is it hard to create a friendship when you have to exude something else while filming?

You know, it’s funny because we were able to be quite friendly with one another in the moments we with each other outside the context of the film. She would always greet me as her first-born son. We would hug each other. We were able to have a rather pleasant and friendly rapport immediately off set. There was something about developing this mother and son bond that proved useful in filming the much more complex and strained relationship of the characters. That’s what made that bond so unique.

How do you think you were able to take a role like this and make it different than the typical role you’d see in a horror or thriller than centers on a disturbed kid? Was there something you specifically used in the script or was that work you had to do on your own?

For me that existed in the script and story already. This story fearlessly confronts the idea that a child doesn’t need to be “the bad seed” or the son of the Devil or a changeling in order to be horrifying. In fact, the scariest thing is that a simple human being is the most capable of such atrocities.

Whether we’re talking about a tragedy like Columbine High School or Virginia Tech, school massacres always seem to shake the moral foundation of our society and give us this sort of wake up call. Did you have to revisit any of these horrific events to get a sense of why they happened and who were the people behind them?

I looked into it for my own purposes and my own understanding. I found that the school shooting is a smoke screen for Kevin and not the cause or the center point of his campaign. He utilizes the massacre to battle for authenticity with his mother. He could have done many things to engage in that warfare. The school shooting just happened to be what he chose.

The final scene of the film is interesting. We have Tilda Swinton staring in your eyes, which are basically empty. Is there room for any type of forgiveness in this story? Where do you think these characters are at the end?

I find the ending of this film to be incredibly hopeful. I think in the core, primordial instance where she asks him why he did this and him saying, “I don’t know” there is a platform and a beginning for possible hope and a future between these two people. At that point, however, it really is all interpretation.

Do you think Kevin will realize later what he has done?

Yeah, even in that last scene, I feel he has already plunged into that painful, realistic confrontation as opposed to these fictional rationalizations he has created. I my own opinion, I do see that as hope for this character.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

March 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”)
Written by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”) and Rory Kinnear (debut)

Look, if you’ve seen just one “evil kid” movie, even the most stylistic, well-acted offering in the genre isn’t going to offer you any surprises. A weird little kid is going to do creepy and borderline psychotic things that only one of his parents will notice, leaving the other one to bumble around happily, stopping every so often to reassure their troubled spouse with inane platitudes like, “Oh, you’re just over-reacting” or  “Honey, please…it’s perfectly normal for a boy to continue masturbating while staring you dead in the eyes when you accidentally walk in on him.” Seriously, it happens in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

In “Kevin,” troubled mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) deals with the aftermath of a tragedy, slinking through life permanently shattered. She spends her time avoiding personal contact on the street and traveling to visit her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) locked away in prison. Flashbacks fill in the details slowly, as Eva and husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) grow apart through Kevin’s childhood as both parents see very different sides of the same little boy.

Tilda Swinton turns in a fantastic performance as a broken woman who has to deal with a son capable of doing terrible things, a husband who doesn’t believe her, and a community that holds her personally responsible for the awful things Kevin did. While it may serve the artier parts of the movie to alienate Eva from the world, the film never really makes it clear why the townspeople would see fit to slap Eva square in the face in public for expressing the least bit of happiness. The supporting performances are fine, with Ezra Miller bringing the requisite uneasiness to the well-worn trope of the deeply-troubled teenager. A likeable John C. Reilly adds nothing new to the standard oblivious parent role. Also, his recent forays into absurd comedy can’t help but undercut his dramatic performance. That may be unfair, but it remains true and proves to be a minor distraction.

Director Lynne Ramsay piles on the artistry, yet the story remains pedestrian. A palette of blood red permeates Eva’s life before and after the tragedy, from a paint-splattered front porch to a strawberry jam sandwich smashed ominously on a coffee table to a wall of red soup cans, but it all boils down to metaphorical window-dressing that fails to disguise how routine the plot unfolds.