Eighth Grade

(USA 2018)

“The topic of today’s video is being yourself.”

“Growing up can be a little bit scary and weird.”

— Kayla Day

Eighth grade was the worst year of my life — I hated everything about it: my shitty peers, my changing body, the high school application process. I never looked back once I got out.

It’s probably no big shock then that my favorite movie taking on the horrors and inequities of middle school is Todd Solondz’s darkly hilarious and biting — yet somehow sympathetic — Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn Wiener is a hero of sorts to me (really). With Eighth Grade, writer / director Bo Burnham traverses the same treacherous terrain — he even starts down a similar, cynical path as Solondz. He swiftly takes it somewhere else, though, allowing Eighth Grade to tell its own story.

Young teenager Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), who’s finishing her final week of eighth grade, leads a double life. She posts self-recorded inspirational videos on YouTube, encouraging viewers to do things like be themselves, choose confidence, and put themselves out there to improve their lot in life.

Sadly, she’s nothing like her YouTube persona at school. Kayla is struggling to fit in, discouraged by the classmates she cyberstalks, some of whom she even approaches in person. She has no friends. No one notices her. She wins a “superlative” award — one of those dubious “most whatever” designations voted by peers — for being the quietest girl student. Aiden (Luke Prael), the guy she’s crushing on, wins “best eyes;” her low mumbled “Nice job” doesn’t even register when he walks past her desk to collect his prize (although she eventually gets his attention when she lies about having nude pics on her phone and giving good blowjobs, but that’s another point).

Fair or not, Kayla takes out her anxiety and frustration on her hapless single dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton). He doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

After she manages to recover from an anxiety attack at a disastrous pool party, Kayla is paired with Olivia (Emily Robinson), a big sisterly high school senior, to shadow for a day. They hit it off, which Kayla didn’t see coming — nor did I. Olivia invites Kayla out with her friends. Kayla’s sixth grade self emerges to push her toward a light she suddenly sees at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

There’s a lot to like about Eighth Grade, which easily could’ve been another teen movie — comedy or drama — that dredges up everything awful about being a teenager just for the sake of revisiting how awful it can be. Burnham nails the multiple forms that adolescent cruelty takes, but he doesn’t stop there. Instead, he takes his film to a positive place. His tone is never condescending. He doesn’t make light of Kayla’s dilemmas — clearly, they’re matters of life or death to her. He makes them important to us.

It’s a joy watching Kayla figure out that things really do get better — even in the face of a jarringly confusing incident involving one of Olivia’s friends (Daniel Zolghadri). Fisher is perfect in her role, zits and all. She shines especially with the little details — her expressions, her awkward movements, and all her likes, ums, and you-knows. She recalls Dawn Wiener without all the cartoonish flourishes.

It sounds hokey, but you really do want to applaud when Kayla finally gets it, like when she tears into two classmates, mean girls Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) and Steph (Nora Mullins), in one totally brilliant scene. Or when she accepts an invitation to hang out with dorky Gabe (Jake Ryan, who amusingly happens to have the same name as Molly Ringwald’s crush in Sixteen Candles) after he strikes up a conversation with her in the pool — and actually follows up with her.

To a degree, Eighth Grade echoes Welcome to the Dollhouse, intentionally or not. One big thing that sets it apart is its rosy ending — it’s hopeful. That’s a very good thing. Gucci!

With Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis, Gerald W. Jones, Missy Yager, Shacha Temirov, Greg Crowe, Thomas J O’Reilly, Frank Deal, J. Tucker Smith, Tiffany Grossfeld, David Shih, Trinity Goscinsky-Lynch, Natalie Carter, Kevin R. Free, Deborah Unger, Marguerite Stimpson

Production: A24

Distribution: A24

93 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B

http://eighthgrade.movie

Vertigo

(USA 1958)

We’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo before:

https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/19/vertigo/

This time, we saw it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing along live — with Joshua Gersen conducting. In an outdoor pavilion. Even a group of overweight and overbearing suburban middle aged ladies whispering and giggling throughout it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. Vertigo is everything that makes cinema exciting.

Sadly, we didn’t stay all the way through the end. Ravinia is a schlep on a school night, and we had to catch the train back to the city. Oh, Scottie, don’t let me go!

Side note: I didn’t realize Vertigo is based on a 1954 French crime novel, D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud (a.k.a. Thomas Narcejac), writing as Boileau and Narcejac.

Screening preceded by a live discussion with Kim Novak

128 minutes
Rated PG

(Ravinia Festival) A-

URGH! A Music War

(UK 1982)

I really don’t expect Derek Burbidge’s rather pedestrian and no-frills URGH! A Music War to move all that many people — only those who landed somewhere between puberty and college during the early Eighties. This movie, a paean to punk, reggae, and new wave bands, reads like a playlist from the early days of MTV. It’s comprised of nothing but live performances, starting and ending with The Police.

Performances are in the following order:

The Police – “Driven to Tears”
Wall of Voodoo – “Back in Flesh”
Toyah Willcox – “Danced”
John Cooper Clarke – “Health Fanatic”
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Enola Gay”
Chelsea – “I’m on Fire”
Oingo Boingo – “Ain’t This the Life”
Echo & the Bunnymen – “The Puppet”
Jools Holland – “Foolish I Know”
XTC – “Respectable Street”
Klaus Nomi – “Total Eclipse”
Athletico Spizz 80 – “Clocks are Big; Machines are Heavy/Where’s Captain Kirk?”
The Go-Go’s – “We Got the Beat”
Dead Kennedys – “Bleed for Me”
Steel Pulse – “Ku Klux Klan”
Gary Numan – “Down in the Park”
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – “Bad Reputation”
Magazine – “Model Worker”
Surf Punks – “My Beach”
The Members – “Offshore Banking Business”
Au Pairs – “Come Again”
The Cramps – “Tear It Up”
Invisible Sex – “Valium”
Pere Ubu – “Birdies”
Devo – “Uncontrollable Urge”
The Alley Cats – “Nothing Means Nothing Anymore”
John Otway – “Cheryl’s Going Home”
Gang of Four – “He’d Send in the Army”
999 – “Homicide”
The Fleshtones – “Shadowline”
X – “Beyond and Back”
Skafish – “Sign of the Cross”
Splodgenessabounds – “Two Little Boys”
UB40 – “Madame Medusa”
The Police – “Roxanne”
The Police – “So Lonely”

Generally speaking, concert films are as good as the band performing — unless you’ve never seen them. URGH! A Music War moved me because I know almost every band here but I had a chance to see only four of them live. I’ll let you figure out which four.

I came a little during The Police, OMD (called simply Orchestral Manoeuvres at this point, something I never knew), Echo, Klaus Nomi (fabulous!), The Go-Go’s, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, Joan Jett , Surf Punks (yum!), The Cramps, and yes, Devo. How the fuck did I miss Invisible Sex and Au Pairs all these years?

Bonus: The 35mm print screened was scratchy and scrappy and worked with the 50ish audience. I wish I had my Docs…

With Wall of Voodoo, Stan Ridgway, Marc Moreland, Chas T. Gray, Bruce Moreland, Joe Nanini, Toyah Willcox, Joel Bogen, Pete Bush, Charlie Francis, Steve Bray, John Cooper Clarke, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, OMD, Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey, David A. Hughes, Malcolm Holmes, Chelsea, Gene October, Barry Smith, Steve Ace, Mike Howell, Chris Bashford, Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek, Sam Phipps, Dale Turner, Richard Gibbs, Leon Scheorman, Kerry Hatch, David Eagle, Echo & The Bunnymen, Will Sergeant, Ian McCulloch, Les Pattinson, Pete DeFreitas, Jools Holland, XTC, Andy Partridge, Terry Chambers, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Klaus Nomi, Julie Berger, April Lang, Jon Cobert, Rick Pascual, Daniel Elfassy, Scott Woody, Athletico Spizz 80, Spizz, Jim Solar, C.P. Snare, Mark Coalfield, Dave Scott, The Go-Go’s, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Margot Olaverra, Gina Schock, Charlotte Caffey, Steel Pulse, David Hinds, Selwyn Brown, Steve Nisbett, Phonso Martin, Basil Gabbidon, Gary Numan, Russell Bell, Paul Gardener, Roger Mason, Ced Sharpley, Chris Rime, Joan Jett, Lee Crystal, Howard Devoto, Magazine, Barry Adamson, John Doyle, Robin Simon, Dave Formula, Surf Punks, Dennis Dragon, Drew Steele, Ray Ban , Mark the Shark, Bill Dale, Andrew Jackson , The Members, Nicky Tesco, Chris Payne, J.C. Mainman, Nigel Bennett, Adrian Lilywhite, Au Pairs, Lesley Woods, Paul Foad, Jane Munro, Pete Hammond, The Cramps, Lux Interior, Nick Knox, Julien Griensnatch, Poison Ivy Rorschach, 999, Dave Allen, Gang of Four, The Alley Cats, Astro, UB40, Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys, Steve Bodon, John Otway, D.J. Bonebrake, X, Ken Bronowski , Skafish, Jim Brown, Hugo Burnham, Ali Campbell, Robin Campbell, Bob Casale, Devo, Jerry Casale, Nick Cash, Exene Cervenka, Dianne Chai, Stewart Copeland, The Police, Javier Cruz, Guy Days, Devo, John Doe, Earl Falconer, The Fleshtones, Klaus Flouride, Mark Freeman, Andy Gill, Barbie Goodrich, Norman Hassan, Jon King, Scott Krauss, Pere Ubu, Pablo LaBritain, Tony Maimone, John McCarthy, Bill Milhizer, Mark Mothersbaugh, Robert Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers, Larry Mysliewiec, Alan Ofter, John Otway, Jan Marek Pakulski , Allen Ravenstine, East Bay Ray, Jim Skafish, Bruce Slesinger, Sting, Randy Stodola, Keith Streng, Andy Summers, David Thomas, Mayo Thompson, Brian Travers, Michael Virtue, Jon Watson, Peter Zaremba, Billy Zoom

Production: Lorimar Productions

Distribution: Filmways Pictures (USA), Pan-Canadian Film Distributors (Canada), Roadshow Film Distributors (Australia), Adams Filmi (Finland)

105 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

 

2001: A Space Odyssey

(USA / UK 1968)

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

— HAL

I caught a 50th anniversary screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve seen it before:

https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/26/2001-a-space-odyssey/

I’m moved no more nor no less. This film speaks for itself, and it says a lot.

149 minutes
Rated G

(Music Box) A

Man of Aran

(UK 1934)

It’s not very often that I’m torn on a film, but Robert J. Flaherty’s pseudo documentary Man of Aran is one where I am. First the good news: from a technical standpoint, this is a visually captivating film; crammed with impossibly rich and downright dangerous shots of the treacherous North Atlantic, the blacks are as dark as squid ink, the whites are as shimmeringly luminous as Tijuana silver, and the greys are a stunningly natural and lovely compromise between the two. These shades of grey are what impressed me most about this film. You’d be hard pressed to find a better fit for a nitrate print.

Now for the bad news: for all its visual allure, Man of Aran is boring. It unflinchingly shows what it takes to survive on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean, but it fails to explain why anyone would choose to do it. I was ready to leave after a half hour of watching waves crash on the rocks and men who look the Edge attack a shark. Yawn! I would have liked this better maybe if Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie” were part of the soundtrack.

With Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch ‘Red Beard’ Ruadh, Patcheen Faherty, Tommy O’Rourke, ‘Big Patcheen’ Conneely of the West, Stephen Dirrane, Pat McDonough

Production: Gainsborough Pictures

Distribution: Gaumont British Distributors (UK), Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America (USA), Éditions Montparnasse (France)

76 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) A+ (visuals) / F (everything else) / C (average)

Nitrate Picture Show

Vesyole Rebyata [Moscow Laughs] [Jolly Fellows]

(Soviet Union / Russia 1935)

It might seem strange to see a 1930s Soviet slapstick big band musical ostensibly made just for fun, but that’s what Grigoriy Aleksandrov’s Vesyole Rebyata [Весёлые ребята] [Moscow Laughs] [Jolly Fellows] is. Frankly, it is strange, or at least not anything I expected.

A sort of Depression Era communist Three’s Company, the humor here is crude: sex, mistaken identity, and class are the backbone of this comedy about a bizarre love triangle between a shepherd (Leonid Utyosov), a privileged diplomat’s daughter (Mariya Strelkova), and her housemaid (Lyubov Orlova).

Moscow Laughs is silly as hell, and it works on a certain level, to a certain point. The whole story — Lena (Strelkova), an opportunistic wannabe singer, woos Kostya (Utyosov), a shepherd whom she thinks is a famous Italian jazz conductor when she meets him on a beach — is funny at first. She invites him to her fancy hotel for dinner, calling him “maestro” and flattering him every way she can. Of course, he’s smitten.

Kostya shows up in a borrowed suit. Lena’s servant, Anyuta (Orlova), recognizes him because she’s admired him from afar for awhile — and she knows he’s not bourgeois. Kostya makes the boneheaded error of playing his pan pipe when asked to perform — the same pipe he plays to corral the animals under his charge. Hearing him play, the animals — pigs, sheep, goats, and cows — bust out of their kolkhoz and crash the party, literally. Hilarity ensues.

Unfortunately, Moscow Laughs loses steam once the setup is complete. The story rambles on through a few more episodes separated by cute animated shorts of the moon dancing and some time. Things get wacky. A bit too wacky for my taste.

Technically, Moscow Laughs reads as a transitional work; Aleksandrov clearly executes big ideas but maybe seems to operate from a mindset geared toward silent film. Stalin approved this film, and I can see why: the screenplay, written by Aleksandrov with Nikolay Erdman and Vladimir Mass, criticizes class and capitalism. The hammer and sickle prominently displayed above the stage removes any doubt that this is propaganda — it’s just social and not overtly political. It’s also very cheerful.

With Elena Tyapkina, Fyodor Kurikhin, Arnold, Robert Erdman, Marya Ivanovna, Emmanuil Geller

Production: Grading Dimension Pictures, Moskinokombinat

Distribution: Eduard Weil & Company (Austria), Amkino Corporation (USA), Facets Multimedia Distribution, Grading Dimension Pictures (International)

90 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) C+

Nitrate Picture Show

The Brady Bunch Movie

(USA 1995)

Here’s the thing about The Brady Bunch: it’s complete fantasy rolled into eye candy. Who didn’t want to live in that house? Who wouldn’t kill Mrs. Beasley to take cousin Oliver’s place?

The 1990s spoof is brilliant:

https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/25/the-brady-bunch-movie/

I can’t resist it. I mean, we meet the Dittmiers. And they suck! I love this movie, even if it’s total fluff and it defiles the myth. And even if I never wanted to see any of the sequels. And haven’t.

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Home via iTunes) B

Ready Player One

(USA 2018)

Schmaltzking Steven Spielberg is in regular form with Ready Player One, his film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 gamer fantasy novel.

Reality bites in 2045, especially in Columbus, Ohio, where Wade (Tye Sheridan) lives with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her no good boyfriend (Ralph Ineson) in “the Stacks,” a favela-like slum of discarded mobile homes piled on top of each other. Things have stopped working and people have stopped fixing them, and the world has taken on a dystopian futuristic Dickensian hue curiously stuck in the 1980s.

Wade, like everyone, escapes to the OASIS, a virtual reality alternate universe where one can be…well, anything. Wade is Parzival, a sort of Speed Racer adventurer. He’s on a mission to win a contest: find the “Easter Egg” left behind by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the dearly departed creator of the OASIS, and gain total control over the OASIS. Parzival just might get by with a little help from his friends — but he’s got to stay a step ahead of one particularly troublesome competitor, corporate bad guy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to rule the OASIS for all the bad reasons.

Ready Player One is a typical Steven Spielberg kid’s movie: pop culture, magic, and a total “feel good” ending. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that. It isn’t necessarily better than recent films like The Post (https://moviebloke.com/2018/01/26/the-post/) or Bridge of Spies (https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/25/bridge-of-spies/), but Ready Player One is a lot more interesting. Spielberg goes overboard with references to ‘80s films, some of which are his own projects — and I’m told he’s more aggressive than Cline is in the book. Still, the result is a lot of fun, and the details are wicked. A sequence dedicated to The Shining actually made me giddy. Mendelsohn looks so much like the principal from The Breakfast Club (https://moviebloke.com/2016/05/05/the-breakfast-club-2/) that I want to ask him if Barry Manilow knows he raids his wardrobe. Rylance plays Halliday with a strange mix of Christopher Lloyd, Steve Jobs, and, err, Spielberg.

I’m no fan of late or even middle period Spielberg, but I didn’t mind this one. Make no mistake, Ready Player One is a big, loud, overdone Hollywood movie, but it’s a decent one. Those who grew up watching Spielberg movies (like I did) no doubt will enjoy it even though they probably don’t need to see it a second time.

With Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Clare Higgins, Laurence Spellman, Perdita Weeks, Joel MacCormack, Kit Connor, Leo Heller, Antonio Mattera, Ronke Adekoluejo, William Gross, Sandra Dickinson, Lynne Wilmot, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Gavin Marshall, Jane Leaney, Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Asan N’Jie, Robert Gilbert

Production: Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Dune Entertainment, Farah Films & Management, Reliance Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers, NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), SF Studios (Norway), Tanweer Alliances (Greece), Karo Premiere (Russia), Kinomania (Ukraine), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia)

140 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Music Box) C+

http://readyplayeronemovie.com

Paradox

(USA 2018)

“Love is like a fart: If you gotta force it, it’s probably shit.”

— One of the cowboys

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One of its posters calls Daryl Hannah’s trippy-lite Paradox “a loud poem,” which I reckon is an accurate enough way to look at it. This is not a particularly noisy film, though, so I don’t know that “loud” is the right word. Anyway…

Set sometime in the near future, Paradox is a dystopian post-apocalyptic Western sci-fi musical comedy with a whiff of magic realism. Got that? The story, if you call it one, involves archeologist cowboys, a rock and roller sage known only as The Man in the Black Hat (Neil Young), and a not-so-merry band of feminist environmentalist survivalists.

Young sits in a chair in a field strumming his guitar while a crew consisting of his bandmates digs through dirt and rock looking for relics, mostly electronic devices used for communication — a phone, a fax machine, I may have seen a radio as well. At night, Young plays with his band, Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. There’s this thing they do where they hold onto a rope as they rise into the air.

Relatively plotless, Paradox features some beautifully cool crooning around a campfire and a cameo by Willie Nelson, who robs a seed bank with Young. If the whole thing sounds silly, it is. It’s hard to tell what Hannah is getting at here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the redemptive power of music. To be fair, she admittedly didn’t plan this as a feature film for wide release (http://www.indiewire.com/2018/03/daryl-hannah-interview-netflix-paradox-sxsw-2018-1201939587/).

I didn’t mind Paradox, but it’s not the kind of thing that begs for a mainstream audience. I can see a lot of people bored with it — or worse, hating it.

With Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar, Elliot Roberts, Dave Snowbear Toms, Charris Ford, Robert Schmoo Schmid, Tim Gooch Lougee, Dulcie Clarkson Ford, Alexandra, Dascala, Hillary Cooper, Jess Rice, Sue Mazzoni, Dana Fineman, Hilary Shepard, Page Adler, Alyssa Miller, Hayley DuMond, Barbara Adler, Jessica James, Maia Coe, Haskins Khalil, Light Kentucky, River Ben Ford, Wes James, Ava James, Ace Adler, Phoenix Fuller, Thelonius True Heart, Skookum River, Blythe Ford, Dave Doubek, Doug Alee

Production: Shakey Pictures

Distribution: Abramorama, Netflix

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Daryl Hannah, Neil Young, Elliot Rabinowitz, and two other men (one may have been Corey McCormick but I’m not sure)

img_0111

73 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) C-

https://www.netflix.com/title/80242378

Thoroughbreds

(USA 2017)

Newcomer Cory Finley’s nihilistic dark comedy Thoroughbreds tells the story, as one of its promotional posters puts it, of good breeding gone bad. Two suburban Connecticut high school girls, misfit Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and go getter Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), reconnect under the guise of tutoring. They were friends in grade school until Lily’s father died; now Amanda’s mother (Kaili Vernoff) is paying Lily to hang out with her daughter, who has a mystery mental disorder that renders her incapable of feeling emotion.

Amanda meets Lily’s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), a rich, domineering, and caustic control freak. Lily hates him but gets upset at Amanda’s suggestion that maybe he should die. She has a change of heart when Mark convinces Lily’s mother (Francie Swift) to send her away to a boarding school for “problem” girls. The two teens devise a plan to kill him. Enter slacker drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) to execute the plan.

Thoroughbreds has all the elements of a winner. Finley’s script tells a good, dark story. Cooke channels Cristina Ricci, playing Amanda with all the macabre emptiness of Wednesday Addams. Ultimately, though, this is no Heathers. I found Thoroughbreds a bit rambling. It’s an okay film, but just okay — it’s probably not something I’m going to view again. Aaron enjoyed it more than I did.

With Svetlana Orlova, Alyssa Fishenden, Jackson Damon, James Haddad, Nolan Ball, Celeste Oliva

Production: June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures

Distribution: Focus Features (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (international)

92 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) C+

http://focusfeatures.com/thoroughbreds