Tag Archives: ezra miller
“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.
“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.
“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.
“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.
“Whatever,” he replies.
That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.
I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.
Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.
Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen/The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.
The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971 at Stanford University, psychology professor Philip Zimbardo set up a 2 week experiment wherein Stanford students were recruited and paid $15 a day to either be a prisoner, or a prison guard. This ‘experiment’ was aimed to find whether inherent personality traits of prisoners or guards are the primary cause of the abusive behaviour that happens in prisons. The students were screened to exclude those with criminal backgrounds, questionable mental health, or medical problems. They were all deemed stable. Prisoners and guards were established by the flip of a coin.
Professor Zimbardo designed the experiment in order to maximize the depersonalization of participants – prisoners wore sac dresses and caps; guards wore uniforms and sunglasses. He imposed one rule: there was to be no physical assault of the prisoners. Very quickly, however, the participants’ behaviours exceeded beyond what Zimbardo could have imagined. Within hours, those in the role of guard were enforcing authoritarian rules to such an extent that some prisoners were subjected to psychological torture. The prisoners, disoriented, mostly passively accepted the abuse, and could be induced to taunt those that didn’t.
After just 36 hours, one ‘prisoner’ had to be released due to increasingly erratic behaviour. Fully a third of the ‘guards’ exhibited sadistic behaviour to the ‘prisoners’ who, keep in mind, were student volunteers just like themselves. They stripped them, degraded them, exerted them, bullied them, disturbed their sleep. It became an exercise in cruelty that the professor, reluctant to look away from his precious and costly little experiment, was forced to call off after just 6 days.
As a student of psychology, I poured over this data and watched a lot of the footage, fascinated and horrified. We don’t just study this in behavioural psychology, we also study it in ethics. Why? This ‘study’ would not pass muster today, not by a long shot, not by 87 prison yards stacked back to back. Zimbardo was not much of a scientist or researchers. The MOMENT his ‘experiment’ (and you see by my quotations how I long not to call it that) veered away from predicted boundaries and went straight toward DANGEROUS situations, he should have hit the brakes. Instead, he put kids in psychologically damaging situations. Kids who were making $15 a day and didn’t fully understand that they could walk away. FIVE of eighteen had to be removed early because of emotional trauma – and I remind you this lasted only 6 of the 14 intended days.
Luckily a grad student convinced Zimbardo that not only was he passively allowing these unethical acts (and HELLO – as psychologists, we’re supposed to HEAL not damage!), but that he himself had become absorbed by his role as the “superintendent” of the prison. He had lost all objectivity. This whole experiment was a waste – because he could not remain neutral, any observations that we can make are subjective and anecdotal at best (let alone impossible to reproduce!).
If this sounds too crazy to be true, well, I wish that was so. This wouldn’t be allowed to happen on a University campus anymore, but it sure as hell feels familiar if you look over what happened at Abu Ghraib with fresh eyes. If it sounds kind of like a movie, well, now it is.
It stars Billy Crudup (Big Fish) as the famed professor, Nelson Ellis (True Blood’s Lafayette) as an ex-con consultant, and a bunch of young men as the students: Ezra Miller (Trainwreck) as prisoner 8612, Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) as 819 and Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) as 416.
The movie, thankfully well-acted, is chilling, troubling, and thought-provoking. The cruelty is relentlessly one-note, so if you watch it, you’re going to want to pencil in some debriefing\discussing\come-down time immediately after, because the saddest part about it is that 45 years later, it’s just as relevant.
Movies Based on Novels for Young Adults
It’s Thursday again, and we’ve got some real beauties lined up! Our friend at Wandering Through the Shelves had us tackle Fairy Tales last week, and black & white movies the week before. This week we’ve been tasked with listing our favourite movies based on books for young adults. And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado-
I felt really repelled by this week’s topic, which is kind of okay with me. I like a challenge. But the young adult genre is just not my thing. I can’t even claim that Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight are bad because I haven’t and won’t give them the time of day. They’re not for me, and they don’t need me – there are plenty of teenage girls to keep these franchises going.
I think it’s a little weird how franchises like Hunger Games and Divergent seem to put teenagers in mortal danger, in order that they may save the world. It’s sort of asking a lot from people who, by and large, don’t get out of bed before noon. It made me remember movies from my own teenage years, the 90s, a time when teen movies featured parties, prom, and the gosh darned mall. And the occasional nerd makeover. But then I thought about our own teen franchises – Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer – and realized that maybe we’re not so different after all. We had teens running for their lives as well.
So for my first pick, I’m going with an even older selection that pit teenager against teenager, putting them in intense mortal danger: The Outsiders. I remember reading this book for the first time in the 7th grade. Our teacher followed it up with an in-class viewing of the movie and my teenaged hormones selfishly hijacked the situation, forcing me to weep buckets, turn purple, and lock myself into a horrible washroom stall until I could ‘compose myself’, whatever that means to a white girl with a perm so bitchin she needed a pick comb. To this day I can never decide if the casting was brilliant (Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, all in their peach-fuzz glory) or if it totally missed the boat (everyone else went on to amazing careers while the lead totally fizzled after a controversially racial comedy flopped – Leonardo DiCaprio auditioned for but didn’t get the part). In any case, it tells the story of two teenaged gangs (if they can be called that), really just right side of the tracks vs the wrong side, the Greasers and the Socs, as they tussle and rumble and occasionally kill each other. SE Hinton wrote the book when she was just 15 years old (and what have YOU been doing with your life?) and it took a class full of junior high fans of the book to elect Francis Ford Coppola the most eligible to direct, and sent him a copy of the book. He agreed, shot the movie with Hinton’s help, and 20 years later restored all the scenes got cut when his own granddaughter was about to study it in school.
The old white men who reviewed Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist didn’t much care for it, but what do they know? They didn’t get the excellent soundtrack, couldn’t relate to the nonchalant inclusiveness, and didn’t tap in to sarcastic chemistry between the two leads. Based on the novel of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, it tells the story of Nick, the token straight guy in an all-gay band, freshly heartbroken by bitchy ex-girlfriend Tris, and Norah, the girl who falls in love sight-unseen with the guy sending frenemy Tris all those great breakup mixtapes. They meet up one night and run all over the city in pursuit of an elusive indie band called Where’s Fluffy. It’s got all the makings of great teenaged shenanigans: live bands, party rockin, neglectful parents, unlimited allowance and no curfews.
Another more recent pick, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, I somehow find charming despite my advanced years, probably because the three leads are so earnest and bright and perfect. Youth is infuriating. The fact that they don’t know a David Bowie song is double infuriating. But the teenage trappings are all there: angst, awesome dance routines, riding in cars with boys, and even Paul Rudd – although this time, he’s (tragically) not playing the heartthrob but the teacher. Oh, I feel sick to my stomach. This story is a real testament to its time – the three leads are all outcasts but get this – they’re actually cool. I know. It’s strange. Counterintuitive, even. Goes against pretty much every teenage movie we’ve ever seen. But in 2015 (and apparently as far back as 2012), it’s cool to be weird. What a revelation. John Hughes was eyeing this as his next project before he died, but in the end it was directed by the novel’s author himself (which almost never happens), Stephen Chbosky, who also got to write the screenplay.
The young adult novel is an elusive concept. When I asked Wikipedia, examples seem to include books for children (Harry Potter), teens (Twilight), and twenty-somethings (The Notebook). When I first heard about this week’s Thursday challenge, I was worried I would be choosing between Divergent and The Hunger Games but, after working on it all week, I have managed to find 3 movies worth celebrating.
Coraline- Adapted from what I just found out was a novel by Neil Gaiman, this 2009 stop-motion fantasy is as different from Disney as American animation gets. My local video store even had it filed under Horror. The bizarre alternate universe to the already bizarre regular one isn’t as perfect as it first seems when a young girl discovers that her Other Mother, although more attentive and permissive than her real mother, wants to sew buttons over her eyes. Eye phobics beware. Darkly funny, oddly beautiful, and genuinely unsettling.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy- I’m still not fully convinced that this counts but who am I to argue with Wikipedia? I’ve never read J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy but have always assumed them to be a more demanding read than most in this genre. Peter Jackson’s ambitious nine and a half hour adaptation certainly expects more of its audience than anything else I’ve watched this week. I’m counting the whole trilogy as one movie to make room for other films on the list. Besides, I am not sure I trust myself to remember what happened in which film well enough to be able to write about them all separately. Together they make up one of the great American films of this century.
The Spectacular Now- It’s hard to find a movie like this from a young adult novel. There are no vampires, wizards, or dragons. The Spectacular Now is a story of young love without the usual gimmicks. Miles Teller (Whiplash) and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) showed great promise in this adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel in 2013 and it’s no surprise that they both got to star in higher profile movies the next year. Teller is especially good as a superficially charming teen alcoholic.
Hugo – this is a very nice love story film, fittingly brought to us by Martin Scorsese. It meanders a bit but it is an enjoyable ride, and the whole thing has a fantastical sheen. Having been to Paris and passed multiple times through Gare Montparnasse, where the movie is set, I will be watching this movie again in the very near future (I did not get to it this week because we were too busy sifting through typical apocalyptic YA filler).
Holes – it is sad that all that has gone on with Shia Leboeuf takes the focus off the movies he is in. I feel he retroactively takes something away from this movie but if you can get past that, Holes is an enjoyable story about family curses. Things wrap up a little too neatly (which I can’t believe I said because I usually love a tidy ending) but it’s an enjoyable movie nonetheless and one worth checking out.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – we have had a ton of comic book adaptations recently and of all of them, Scott Pilgrim feels most like a comic book (and that is a very good thing). It’s a fun movie with a ton of recognizable faces. I feel I’m stretching the category a bit with this pick but it has been tough this week to find anything halfway decent, and Scott Pilgrim is a favourite of mine!
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Actually, we need to talk about Lynne Ramsay.
When a twisted movie comes out of the mind of Quentin Tarantino, we look at him and think – yeah, that makes sense. But Lynne Ramsay? You wouldn’t see it coming. But she does make these amazingly dark, fucked up films. And more often than not, she sticks kids into these movies, which makes them feel even bleaker, even blacker. She likes to make a film that is completely hers, and if she’s not happy, she walks (as she did with The Lovely Bones, and Jane Got A Gun) . She’s fantastically outspoken and she’s not afraid to leave a project if she doesn’t feel comfortable signing her name to it.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is adapted from the shocking novel by Lionel Shriver. Tilda Swinton plays Kevin’s mom, Eva. Eva always struggled to bond with Kevin, who cried incessantly around her but was rather sweet with others. Can a baby deliberately antagonize his own mother? As a child, Kevin finds ways to blackmail his mother into getting his way. When Eva and husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) have a second child, accidents escalate and Eva becomes fearful of Kevin while his father can always excuse his behaviour. This fundamental disagreement puts a strain on their marriage. As a teenager, Kevin (Ezra Miller) commits a massacre at his high school, murdering many students. Eva transforms her life to support him in prison.
This story is the most fantastic, uncomfortable episode of nature vs nurture that we’ve ever seen. Was Kevin born “bad”? How early can we detect evidence of psychopathy? How early can a baby pick up on his mother’s ambivalence?
As his mother, Tilda Swinton steals the show. Of course, the events are her own recollections, offered in retrospect, so she’s the mother of all unreliable narrators. But is she wrong? Despite its title, this isn’t really about Kevin, it’s about his mother. She’s never been perfect, sometimes openly hostile, and we experience the film through her broken mind. Swinton is volcanic – so much bubbling underneath, perhaps ready to blow. It is criminal that she didn’t get an Oscar nomination. That she didn’t get the win.
But the most interesting and surprising thing about the film is that Ramsay takes our darkest society impulse – a child slaughtering other children, and ultimately marries it with themes of redemption. Just whose redemption is perhaps unclear as nothing is overtly stated. Kevin is failed by the system and possibly by his parents. Eva knew what was coming and failed to do anything about it. The film is so troubling it veers into straight-up horror at times, and Ramsay is always there, confrontational, unblinking. Her close-ups dare you to look away.