Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spring Movie Diary: Act of Valor

Date: February 28, 2011
Time: 7:00 pm
Place: Cinemark NextGen Stone Hill Town Center
Company: Derrick
Food: small cherry Icee
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rating: R
Directors: Scott Waugh, Mouse McCoy

Quick Impressions:
It’s a good thing I never spent my childhood dreaming of becoming a Navy SEAL because I have about as much chance of becoming an elephant seal. I’m far too anxious for stress-fraught careers like Navy SEAL, cocktail waitress, or middle school social studies teacher. (One of mine nearly had a mental breakdown trying to get us to shut up and stop snickering about the fertile crescent.) My delicate psychiatric state aside, I’m also hopelessly clumsy, born out of shape, and literally physically unable to make my bed with properly neat corners. (I’ve been told that’s a requirement for military service.) Given my own unsuitable nature, it’s somewhat shocking to learn that I have a number of relatives in the military, including a first cousin who is a special recon Marine.

I’m not a total failure, though. I did appear in several high school plays, leading me to the conclusion that I don’t have the chops to act professionally, either. That is the one thing I have in common with the military men who appear in Act of Valor.

Of course, most of them aren’t very good actors. They’re Navy SEALs! Do they have to do everything? I’m shocked that I’ve seen such rancor directed toward their performances. (I never read other reviews until I’ve written my own, but I can’t always help seeing blurbs.) When the movie transparently advertises itself as a dramatization of the acts of Navy SEALs, performed by actual Navy SEALs, doesn’t that tell you what kind of acting to expect? Who has a resume that reads, “Spent fourteen years as an active duty Navy SEAL, played Hamlet seven times at the Globe, danced for a decade with the Bolshoi ballet, current CEO of the Walt Disney Company, cookbook author, and NICU nurse.” I mean, good grief!

I already know what their detractors will reply. “But they’re in a movie! People in a movie are supposed to act. That’s what movies are all about.” To that I say, “You obviously don’t go to many movies.” Most movies that open wide and make tons of money are less about acting than about blowing stuff up. And lots of stuff blows up in this movie—even a couple of people. It’s very exciting.

Online, the phrase that seems to come up over and over again describing this film is “glorified recruitment video.” That’s exactly right. It’s a big budget, feature length recruitment video. But why would anyone imagine that’s not entertainment?

Unlike the younger me, my nine-year-old stepson does dream about a future in the military, and I promise you that no matter what he is doing—i.e. zoning out in his own little world, playing a game, talking and in the middle of a sentence—if a recruitment commercial for the U.S. military appears on a movie or TV screen, his head whips around like that, and he is immediately fascinated and completely engrossed. I’m sure he would love Act of Valor.

The Good:
The movie is consistently entertaining, and this is coming from someone who by far prefers verbal intellectual stimulation to constant visual over-stimulation. I’ve never been a fan of sustained, mindless action. (Well, that’s a lie. I always love an opportunity to get lost in thought and eat popcorn.) I’m not exaggerating when I say that I cannot follow mindless action. Blow up enough stuff as you move the camera faster and faster and faster, and I will literally have no idea what on earth is happening. To avoid a total mental breakdown in the theater, I usually disengage and zone out. I’m not blaming the action movies. It’s a personal failure (and possibly a medical condition). (And—side note—that’s why I like pirate movies because swordplay is much easier to follow.)

Act of Valor, though, doesn’t feature any mindless violence. In fact, the operations the SEALs engage in are all highly calculated, perfectly timed, and excitingly complex.

Despite what people may tell you, this movie is not at all like most first-person shooter video games (at least not like single-player versions played by average people). Nobody runs into a room and methodically clears it from end to end by shooting everybody in sight. The unit acts as a team, and stealth, planning, tech, and precision play just as much a role as personal strength, courage, and shooting prowess. (Although, I will say, they have some pretty impressive weapons at their disposal.)

The action is not mindless at all. It’s all happening for a purpose, and even I got a visceral thrill while watching it.

Best Action Sequence:
The extraction of the CIA operative is by far the best part of the film. More than a single scene, it’s quite a lengthy segment of the movie. But it’s so taut, suspenseful, enthralling, surprising, and thrilling that it seems to pass in the blink of an eye. As the segment drew to a racing close, I realized that I’d been squeezing my husband’s hand so tightly the entire time that both of us now had sore fingers, white knuckles, and sweaty palms.

That part of the movie has such conspicuous excellence that I think they should have released it independently as a short film. It could easily stand on its own, and it’s far better than the rest of the movie.

Best Surprise:
Maybe to someone more familiar with military tactics, this wouldn’t have come as a surprise, but during the extraction of the CIA operative, I gasped in visceral delight as a body fell into the water without a splash.

Funniest Moment:
The best actor in this movie was the Senior, and I would imagine that if his actual job involves interrogating international criminals like he does in the movie, then he has quite a bit of theatrical experience. That man has amazing charisma, and in his scene opposite “Crisco” he’s both eerily amusing and terrifying.

On second thought, it’s not that he’s exactly funny, but he reminded me vaguely of the guy inThe Hunt for Red October who asks, “You’ve lost another submarine?” (And that definitely cracked me up back when I was ten and insisted on going to see the movie with my grandparents. Since I didn’t know what defect meant as a verb, this and Sam Neill saying he “would have liked to have seen Montana” were by far the highlights of that film for me.)

Scenes That Made Me Wish I Were a Navy SEAL:
None of them.

Scenes That Made Me Glad I’m not Being Pursued by Navy SEALs:
All of them.

The Negatives:
The story is contrived, which would be fine if it were well acted, but, of course, it is not. I’m not talking about the story motivating all the missions. That’s just fine. (It’s contrived, too, of course, but the enacting of the missions is fascinating, suspenseful, sometimes breathtaking to watch.) I’m talking about the human story about the interpersonal relationships of the SEALs and their families.

To be fair to the SEALs, it’s not just the acting that’s subpar here. The script is very poorly written (in this aspect), kind of hokey, and far too predictable. You always hear people complaining about Oscar baiting art films with their over-the-top tactics designed to manipulate the Academy. Act of Valor is just the same except it’s trying to manipulate a different audience.

To be clear, I’m not trying to diminish the achievements of the SEALs whose actual work provided the factual basis for this fictionalized dramatization. I’m just saying that the movie is not cinematically effective in this respect. If you find yourself weeping and applauding at the end, you’re probably motivated either by the memory of the real-life bravery of a friend or family member or by the memory of your own painful experiences. Or maybe you’re just a patriot who believes that acts of valor transcend drama, elevating Act of Valor from an imperfect movie to a moving tribute to real men and women who do protect and serve our country.

The final scenes of the movie should have evoked tears, but they didn’t in me, and I cried once during Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. All of the elements necessary for evoking tears were there. It was just a case of poor cinematic execution. The action scenes feel real. To say that the interpersonal scenes do not is a huge and exceptionally gracious understatement.

Also, there were moments (especially toward the end) that got a little too explosive for my tastes. But keep in mind that if you aren’t that engrossed by what’s happening on screen, you’re free to improve the experience for yourself as I did. Here are some good ideas for keeping your intellect occupied: 1) Meditate on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and wonder if you’re living your life properly. (I actually think the movie wants you to do that.) 2) Wish you still taught a rhetoric class so that you could make up an activity that involved viewing both Act of ValorandA Better Life. 3) Improve the dramatic, character-driven moments for yourself by substituting various superstars of old Hollywood for the current performers. (Warning: With some star combinations, this may turn the film into a screwball comedy.)

Appropriate Viewing for Children?
This is rated R for a reason, but I still think that my nine-year-old stepson would have enjoyed it. He probably wouldn't have found it one bit scary. It terrified me to death. I thought it was one of the scariest films I've seen in a long time. For one thing, the noises off in the distance seem eerie in a theater with good sound. Also, it seems designed to incite paranoia. Every time somebody got up to go to the bathroom, I worried that that person had left behind a bomb, and that the theater would blow up. (To be fair to the movie, though, I also worried when the woman behind me coughed because I'm not ready for another cold. I'm a big worrier, always something to worry about.)

You probably shouldn't take children to this movie. I'd also avoid taking adults who are A) mentally unstable or B) outspoken and of a critical bent. (You don't want your guests saying or doing something to incite scandal in the audience.)

Visceral is the perfect word to describe the positive impact of this movie. Watching the SEALs work often provides a palpable (and tingly!) visceral thrill. Taken on its own terms, the movie is quite enjoyable. Is it trying to manipulate the audience? Of course! But all movies are doing that. This one is just doing it badly, so its manipulative nature is more conspicuous. That’s no reason not to see it. (If it were directed by Stephen Daldry, it would probably get an Oscar nomination next year!)

The action is exciting, and while the voice-over narration is ineffective dramatically, it does pose some provocative questions. For these reasons, Act of Valor is definitely a stimulating view. Give it a try.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Birds in February: Part I

Penelope Says on Facebook

Earlier this evening, Penelope slipped on the kitchen floor and hurt herself. I was in the laundry room, when I heard sobbing, and then found her with a mouth full of blood which freaked us both out. But as it turns out, she just bit her lip. To help with the swelling, we've been giving her popsicles. As you can see, she is devastated by this injury, and will never recover.
February 13 at 10:42 pm

Me (turning the shade on the bedside lamp to make the room brighter, but accidentally getting the light right in Nellie's eyes): There!
Penelope (flinching theatrically): Aaaah! That's really bright. I need sunglasses to go to sleep!!
February 16 at 1:10 am

Penelope: (abruptly) Mommy, why do I have a butt crack? And where do toots come from? Why do they go down into my toodlebutt and then come back out again?

Yes, these are the questions that keep us awake at night.
February 16 at 10:56 pm

Last night...
Penelope (calling from somewhere unseen upstairs): Uh oh, Mommy! I had an accident and poop is squishing out.
Me: (calling up to her) Poop is squishing out where?
Penelope (after a troubling pause, forlornly in the unseen distance): Back here.

We're having some similar issues tonight. She may not have made it to the potty in time, but she's delivering a very impressive (and lengthy) explanation of how this misfortune has befallen her.
February 16 at 11:10 pm

Penelope just tripped and bit her lip again. Blood was gushing out everywhere, but she seems okay now. How many times in one week can this happen? There was so much blood on Derrick's shirt that I was sure I'd see teeth this time, but she seems okay now. It seems someone has inherited her mother's clumsiness.
February 16 at 11:57 pm

The kids have been watching The Lion King 1 and 1/2 on TV. Just now, a bunch of Disney characters (shown in silhouette in the darkened movie theater) rushed in at the end, demanding to see Timon and Pumba's movie from the beginning. As Peter Pan flew up and crowed in front of the screen, Penelope cried, "Oh my! This is a very strange event!"
February 17 at 5:37 pm

Penelope: I want to watch My Little Pony.
Me: But I think Bubby wanted to watch Octonauts.
Penelope: Okay. (to Grayson) This one is pretty different from inside the book.
Me: What makes it different?
Penelope: In this one Fozzie's a boy.
Derrick: That's right, Quazi's a girl in the book.
February 17 at 10:57 pm

Me: I have a headache.
P: What's wrong? (examining me) Oh! I see! Your heart isn't beating!
February 18 at 1:59 am

Me: What are you going to be when you grow up?
P: So many things! A doctor and...
Me: And what else?
P: A grown up!
February 18 at 2:01 am

Penelope (reading her fairy book to her stuffed cat): Look, Dinah. Goblins used to take babies all the time and leave a goblin. That's a changeling!
Dinah: I'm a changeling!
P: Dinah, you're a kitty. Somebody made you with a needle and thread!
February 19 at 2:05 am

Me: So you like your new phone?
Derrick: Yeah, I'm just chatting with Jason.
Me: (after a few minutes) How is your brother?
Derrick: He's fine. We're just talking about some of the differences between ice cream sandwich and gingerbread.
Me (after a delay): What? (Then I realize) Oh, operating systems for the phone. I was like, 'The differences between ice cream sandwiches and gingerbread are obvious! How can they be discussing that?'
February 19 at 2:57 pm

Penelope (out of nowhere, conversationally): I just love candy. I like mints and everything.
February 19 at 3:01 pm

Dinah, Penelope, and I are looking through the atlas Derrick got me for Christmas. According to Penelope, we live in "The United States of Texas, Hutto."
February 19 at 5:03 pm

Penelope: Why are there two moons?
Me: We have one moon, but this is a map of the near side (flipping the page), and this is a map of the far side. Do you know that men from Earth have actually walked on the moon?
Penelope: (in alarm) OH NO! Bad Martians might kill them!
February 19 at 5:20 pm

Penelope (to Derrick): Girl pirates don't have a beard. Why don't they?
Derrick: Because usually girls don't grow a beard. I don't know why.
February 19 at 7:27 pm

Penelope: Daddy, what's a moose?
Derrick: Mommy likes moose.
Penelope: A real moose or an eating moose?
Derrick: An eating moose?
Me: You mean like chocolate mousse?
Penelope: Yeah.
Derrick: Mommy thinks a moose is so cute with his antlers. Look, I'll show you a picture.
February 19 at 10:02 pm

Me (laughing hysterically at old cartoons): I love this because he has absolutely no sense of urgency, and Sam is like 100 percent urgency.
Penelope: What is that sneaky rabbit going to do now?
February 19 at 10:38 pm

Penelope is cracking me up telling Dinah about all the scorpions in the sand dunes on Mars.
February 20 at 12:58 am

Penelotpe (following me into the kitchen): May I have a lump, please?
(My mom buys lumps of sugar for tea.)
Me: Here you are. (Handing her one.)
Penelope: Oh no. Two lumps, please. I always take two lumps.
Me: (with a sigh) Okay. Two lumps.
Penelope (with a smile): If you let me, I will take all the lumps.
Me: No, I don't think you need all the lumps.
Penelope: Two more lumps?
February 20 at 11:02 pm

Penelope: I'm going to read this book.
Me: It doesn't have pictures.
Penelope: Well I'm big now. (reading) It says, "What's my crime!" Oh, it says, "To go to sleep, you have to close your eyes." (Slams it shut, screams) That's it! Now I see why I can never get to sleep! This book has changed my life! And I will use it to cook with tomorrow!
February 21 at 1:32 am

Dinah: Why don't you have a tail?
Penelope: Because I'm not a pet. I'm not an animal. I'm a manimal.
Me: Who told you that?
Penelope: Me. Myself. It's true. Look at me.
Me: Where did you get the idea that you're a manimal?
P: Well, I'm a mammal, and mine sounds better.
February 21 at 1:50 am

Dinah: How do you know you're a mammal?
P: Because I came out of Mommy's tummy.
Me: You're awfully smart about this. Have you been talking to.somebody?
P: Bubby. You're a mammal, too, Dinah.
Dinah: Yes because I came out of Mommy's tummy, too.
P: Dinah! Not everybody does! Daddy came out of Nanny's tummy, and Grandma came out of Mommy's tummy.
Me: Really?
Dinah: How do you know you're not a bird?
P: Because I'm not dead. Some birds are dead. Maybe their mommy doesn't help them fly.
February 21 at 2:03 am

P: Which planet is Mary on?
Me: Aunt Merry?
P: No Jesus' mommy.
Me: Well, she was on Earth, but now she's in heaven.
P: I don't see heaven on this planet book.
Me: No, heaven is far away.
P: Heaven is far away, Dinah, and we don't want to go there. The baby might wake up!
February 21 at 2:07 am

Quote of the day, Derrick as we walked out of the movie theater tonight--
"I think they needed to do more than talk about Kevin."
February 21 at 10:01 pm

Penelope: (reaching into Derrick's pocket) Can I have a quarter, Dad? I need more money. Can I have some more money?
Derrick: Well that's enough money for right now.
Penelope: But I feel more in there.
Derrick: Yes, but you don't need all my money.
Penelope: I do need it for Disneyland!
February 21 at 10:31 pm

Me: Come sit on my lap. I missed you.
Penelope: (sitting in my lap in delight) Why?
Me: Well, because I was gone and you weren't there. And we saw a movie about a little boy who didn't like his mommy. And he was always mean to her.
Penelope: Ohhh.
Me: (kissing her) I'm so glad that you love me, and I love you.
Penelope (beaming and hugging me enthusiastically, then suddenly drawing back, pensive, points out as if being objective): Well, sometimes YOU'RE mean.
February 21 at 10:35 pm

Penelope just brought me the Cliffhanger DVD box.
P: What??!! This is Spiderman? This must be before the spider bit him and he made his suit.
(clutching her blanket)
P: Pinkie is exhausted, but he's very scared of scary things. I will protect him like Spidergirl. You can be my mudder. I will climb and climb. (tries) I can't climb the wall very well! I need more super powers! (noticing my old stuffed Cera from The Land Before Time) This is my rhino dog.
Wednesday at 12:28 am

Penelope: I need to be a spy, Mommy, a very sneaky spy, and I'll trick you, but first I need my costumes. It's almost Halloween soon, so can I get more spy costumes? If I spy you, I might see you.
Wednesday at 12:31 am

P: I will teach you to be a spy. I try to light up dark areas, so take my flashlight and look for darkness.
Wednesday at 12:46 am

Penelope (critically, as she watches Rio): Parrots don't kiss!
Wednesday at 3:01 pm

We just finished watching a DVRed show, and the end credits from the movie Holes were playing on TV.
Me: (reading the screen, telling Derrick) Siobhan Fallon Hogan, she's the one who says, "An Eggar suit."
Derrick: Oh yeah!
Penelope (who had been playing the piano): OH NO! (bangs keys and stops playing) That was pretty bad!
Derrick: What was?
Penelope: Is she okay?
Me: Who?
Penelope (in confusion): Why did she fell in the ocean?
Me (taking a minute but finally understanding): Ohhhh! Siobhan Fallon Hogan! No. She didn't fall in the ocean!
Penelope: What did she fell in?
Thursday at 9:40 pm

Me: If a genie gave you three wishes, what would you wish for?
P (counting on her fingers): A zebra toy, a merry-go-round, and a truck.
Yesterday at 1:10 am

Penelope brought me a book about the pyramids and started asking questions, so we wrapped Dinah up like a mummy and attempted to wrap Penelope, but she was wigglier than Dinah, so we never made it very far. Now she's asking, "Do mummies play the piano?" Based on what I'm hearing, apparently wiggly mummies do!
22 hours ago

And why was Penelope so eager to break out of the mummy wrap? She thought someone would steal her toys. Now she's running around the room, "hiding them," vowing, "They will never get my treasures, those thieves!" This is obviously the practical application of a lesson on mummies--if you make a great display of your wealth, people will steal your stuff!
22 hours ago

Penelope: Okay, Dinah. We're going to wrap you up again. Don't worry, I hid your treasures.
Dinah: No! I need to be buried with my treasures around me.
Penelope: Okay, Dinah. If you say so. But they might steal them from you. They might. And then I will say, 'I told you so.' Soon all your treasures will be gone, Dinah. Then you won't be happy, Dinah.
22 hours ago

Penelope: Listen to my warning, Dinah.
Me: She's right, Dinah. People might despoil the tomb.
Penelope: They will despoil them, Dinah. They will despoil them!
Me: What does despoil mean?
Penelope: Take away.
Me: That's right, Dinah. They will despoil your tomb and take away your treasures.
Dinah: I must have my treasures!

Dinah is such a stickler for ceremony!
22 hours ago

So the most Penelope-friendly mummy viewing on Netflix streaming is Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. So far, it is far more fantastically entertaining than I would have imagined.
21 hours ago

Derrick (frustrated with a ridiculously bad driver, blocking traffic): Dude, you're an idiot!
Penelope: I thought he was dammit!
Me: What did you say?
Grayson: She said the D word!
Derrick: Nevermind!
Penelope (not bothered): I said dammit.
Me: But why did you say that?
Penelope: Because I thought that guy was being a dammit.

Happy first Friday of Lent!
17 hours ago

So in the park today, the birds started imitating the sound my camera makes when it turns on. The way they whistled it sounded almost eerie, especially because they kept leading me further and further down the path.
13 hours ago

Penelope: I like Bubby's doggies, but I don't want them to come home with me.
Me: Which one do you like the best?
Penelope: The chihuahua one. When is Daddy coming?
Me: Soon.
P: Maybe he is coming on Saturday Night Live! (giggles)
11 hours ago

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spring Movie Diary: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Date: February 21, 2012
Time: 7:10 pm
Place: The Regal Arbor
Company: Derrick
Food: small cherry Icee
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Lynne Ramsay

Quick Impressions:
As we left the theater, my husband said, “I think they needed to do more than talk about Kevin.” My own impression of the film found fault with a different aspect of the title. Memo to Tilda Swinton’s character: “We need to talk.” Period. That’s patronizing advice. We, as human beings, need to talk in order to communicate to other people what we are feeling, thinking, and experiencing. If we don’t tell them, they won’t know.

This movie is about a mother who realizes that something is deeply wrong with her son. Well, maybe a better way to put it is that she wishes that she would have acted on her early realizations that something was deeply wrong with her son before tragedy struck. Now it’s too late.

Even though her character drove me almost as crazy as Kevin, Tilda Swinton gives a wonderful performance, and so does teen actor Ezra Miller. We Need to Talk About Kevin takes a close, artistically filtered, and refreshingly non-glamorizing look at how sociopathy affects family members. Though it’s by no stretch of the imagination fun to watch, I enjoyed the film. And it sticks with you (perhaps unfortunately).

A word of warning, though. If in the past, you’ve participated in any sort of reprogramming experiment and now go into a hypnotic trance every time you see the color red, it’s probably best you avoid We Need to Talk About Kevin. The film opens with a gleefully orgiastic tomato fight. (You know the kind, the ones you always used to participate in with thousands of other single, carefree types before you had children?) Then we get red paint, red food, red ink, red wine, and, of course, lots of red blooded Americans’ red, red blood. So all you sleepers out there, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Good:
The visuals in the movie are stark and stunning and really stick with you. That’s a good thing because the verbal descriptors are few and far between. This film is all about the image, the memory, the internal torment that you find yourself unable to voice.

Tilda Swinton’s character (named Eva Khatchadourian, though she’s rarely called by name) bothered me more than Kevin to be honest. In the present-time scenes, we see increasing evidence that Eva feels both guilty and responsible for what her son has done. She seems to find a kind of purgation in sticking around and enduring the cruel treatment of others (which, I must say, is quite baffling when we finally learn that her own personal sufferings are at the very least equal to theirs).

The plot always advances, moving forward in both the present-time scenes and the intercalary flashbacks, but you can’t call the plot exactly linear since it’s folded over on itself. The present is always interrupted by flashbacks of Kevin, and before they can tell too much of Eva’s history, the flashbacks are always interrupted by random scenes from the present. For that reason, we’re not completely sure what happened in the past to bring Eva to her present circumstances until the very end of the film.

If you’ve watched the preview or heard anything about the movie, you suspect going in that Eva’s son Kevin is a sociopath (or something of that nature). Even going in cold, it doesn’t take long to realize that something is wrong with Kevin, something fairly serious, and something too directed and malicious to be autism or schizophrenia (in all likelihood).

My husband has a different take on this, but I would swear that there’s something wrong with Eva, too. At the very least, something is kind of off. Even before Kevin is born, she always looks miserable and tortured. My husband suggested, “Maybe she was having a difficult pregnancy. Maybe she seemed miserable around those other women because she likes to be alone or she’s uncomfortable about her body.” Maybe. But something seemed wrong with her, and blaming the unborn Kevin seems a little theatrical. This is a realistic art film about a disturbed boy, not The Omen. Kevin may be disturbed (and disturbing), but he’s not the anti-Christ. I found myself wondering if her hormone levels were off, or if she suffered from depression during pregnancy that became postpartum depression and prevented her from bonding with the baby.

Even if my husband is right and Eva’s personality is simply different from my own, I still think that her own behavior holds some important answers about what’s wrong with Kevin. If the boy is a sociopath and unable to empathize, he probably learns to interact with others by mirroring their behavior (like an actor giving a performance). His dad constantly smiles at him and babbles to him excitedly, and that’s exactly how Kevin behaves back. Eva, on the other hand, stares and frowns at him all day. He’s probably desperate for social behaviors to mimic since he doesn’t understand the interiority of other people, and his mother doesn’t give him any clues. No wonder he’s hostile. They’re caught in a never-ending cycle of silent hostility.

I’m not saying that Eva is at fault for what happens with Kevin. After all, Dad is just a way-emotive, super nice pal, and we can see how that works out for him. Kevin is seriously disturbed, and I am definitely not suggesting that it’s his mother’s fault. And I’m not saying that she should feel as guilty as she does for not preventing what happened, either. But I am, frankly, amazed that she let things go as long as she did. If I had been in her shoes, the movie would have been titled We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Mother. Kevin’s full potential for insanity would never have been known, having been eclipsed by his mother’s murderous rampage against the son who continually treated her with disdain and the husband who patronized and ignored her.

How could she live that way for so long? I understand that this was set in the past when less information about certain disorders was readily available. And I understand that the pediatrician was initially unhelpful. But you can bet that I would not have put up with that kind of treatment from my husband (played well but maddeningly by John C. Reilly). Usually in homes where someone is abusive (though it usually isn’t the child), somebody has an extreme case of denial, but this guy really takes the cake. She’s an educated woman who has traveled and has a career. Why in the world does she let her husband patronize and ignore her like that? If he doesn’t believe you the first time, tell him again. If he doesn’t believe you again, find a way to show him. If he won’t see, leave. Leave him with Kevin. Maybe he’ll see better.

It takes her far too long to reach this point. It’s simply ridiculous! I’m not saying I would have done the right thing, but she doesn’t even do the wrong thing. She does nothing! Well, she does one thing. Even Kevin remembers that.

See the movie, and then ponder this question. When Kevin finally learns to use the potty, and her husband asks how she did it, why doesn’t she immediately tell him the truth? Yes, I realize she’s ashamed and guilty, but it reveals far more about Kevin than it does about her. Why doesn’t she tell him then?

But you see, that’s the brilliance of the movie. (All of this is under “the good” instead of “negatives” because I do think it’s well done.) As she passes out on her lonely little bed in her present-time sea of wine, pills, and guilt, Eva is surely asking herself the same thing. I’m sure that’s why we see the moment at all. The flashbacks are carefully chosen. I’m sure she’s wondering, Why didn’t I tell him then? Or I knew then and then and then and then. Why didn’t I make someone understand? Why didn’t I do something? Anything? Is it because I’m a coward? Is it because I wanted him to love me? Is it because I didn’t want to believe it myself?

I’m an extremely emotional, empathetic, imaginative, verbal, demonstrative, anxiety-ridden person, so I’m pretty able to figure out what’s probably going through her mind when she displays such torment on the screen. (Being privy to her flashbacks certainly helps. That’s an advantage Kevin never got.) I’m sure that to a sociopath, her behavior would be mystifying. The only emotion or idea she consistently expresses is pain. That may be why Kevin chooses her as the one he most often hurts. Or maybe not. Who knows?

It’s a brilliant performance by Tilda Swinton who tackles an amazingly difficult character, one who seems almost pathologically unable to articulate her emotions to others, even though she feels them very deeply herself (probably unlike her son).

She deserved an Academy Award nomination, but so did the five women nominated, even Rooney Mara (who some say stole her spot). Ezra Miller is pretty amazing as Kevin, too. Why wasn’t there a spot for him? Best Supporting Actor is a strange, strange category this year. I’m not in the film industry, so I try to respect the Academy’s decisions, but in quite a few cases this year, I feel like the Academy voters are Eva, and I’m Kevin. What oh what were they thinking as they cast their ballots for those 2012 nominations? I’ll never understand.

Funniest Moment:
There’s no comic relief in this film, no relief of any kind, but there is a relatively amusing moment when some missionaries come to the door.

Best Surprise:
I was so relieved that we didn’t have to witness some of Kevin’s more terrible crimes as they happened. As soon as I got a look at one character’s face in an early scene, I thought with a sick feeling of dread, Oh no. But the movie didn’t torture me as much as I feared.

Best Scene:
Because Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller give the best performances, their scenes together are collectively the best in the movie. I love the mother-son date she takes him on. We finally get some insight into how he sees her (or at least how he wants her to believe that he sees her). Despite the horrifically difficult moments she remembers from his childhood, these two do have a relationship. The final scene—her question, his answer, their subsequent behavior—how provocative (intellectually)!

The Negatives:
Since the movie focuses on Eva, we never really know for sure just exactly what is wrong with Kevin. We think he’s a sociopath (which diagnostically would probably mean he has antisocial personality disorder). But we’re not sure, and we’re never given any information or answers about his condition or motives. That’s not necessarily a negative. Providing a diagnosis for Kevin is not a goal for the movie, which wants to explore the suffering and confusion of his mother and does so quite successfully. Still the mystery of Kevin’s behavior may frustrate some viewers. The film does a poor job of educating people about mental illness (though, for God’s sake, if you suspect your child has a psychiatric issue don’t go to a movie looking for answers!!).

A bigger problem is that the behavior of the people in the town was atrocious and almost unrealistic. Why has this woman become such a huge pariah? She’s suffered as much as they have. I think it’s human nature to become absorbed in your own personal tragedies, and suffering brings out some ugly behaviors, but still. On the one hand, I think, The fault must be partially with her. She’s doing something to provoke their rancor. It’s the way she’s responding, just taking it all, not making it clear how hurtful their behavior is. Maybe that’s the reason Kevin enjoys tormenting her, too. Was she abused as a child? And then I think,Maybe some people treat her well, but she’s just focusing on the negative, just as she’s focusing on negative memories of Kevin in her flashbacks. Maybe there’s a huge problem with her perception.

Honestly, though, I think that the movie goes a bit too far showing her persecution by the town. It doesn’t seem quite realistic, and it’s distracting.

The only other complaint that I have is that the movie feels long and painful. (I’m sure that’s intentional, though, and I’m not sure it isn’t the right choice.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is basically a movie about the mother of a sociopath, but it’s an art film. Don’t go expecting a slick, Hollywood horror thriller. It isn’t scary (in that way). It isn’t thrilling. It’s almost never funny. And it certainly isn’t for children. But it is a well made film featuring two incredible performances. Surely if you’ve read this review, you can tell if Kevin is or is not your cinematic cup of tea.