Before High (Film Thoughts: Eighth Grade)

fullsizeoutput_6e7e-e1531176977576How many times have you heard someone (of a certain age) say, ‘Could you imagine if you had social media during our youth?’   I always say that I lived and grew up in a more innocent time, with none of today’s constant barrage of information. Bo Burnham’s ‘Eighth Grade’ gives a glimpse of how today’s youth are dealing with, and surviving life with these tools. Burnham’s film feels so deep, so true to what it really feels to be a certain age that it reads like a documentary at times. And Elsie Fisher, as Kayla, is so authentic I may never be able to differentiate her from the actor for the rest of her career. I spent a good part of this film cringing while Kayla makes the same mistakes we all made, well at least I made them. She has a YouTube channel where she gives advise, yet struggles to apply the same things to her life. She has a crush on a kid, and acts so stupid when he is around (hell, I do the same thing at my age now)  There are a couple of scary anecdotes to how these kids live nowadays. For example, kids are now trained as to how to react when there is an active shooter at their school (‘Run the other way!’) and there is a round of Truth or Dare that is creepier than any horror scene. It is all so fascinating, and left a mark in my mind.

Suddenly Summer (Movie Thoughts: Hot Summer Nights)

tumblr_p37rjqKK8o1vo5ua5o1_1280Happy July Fourth, and why not start it off with a summer-themed film, one with wholesome American values, like marijuana!

‘Hot Summer Nights’ is Timothee Chalamet’s follow-up feature after ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ amd just like the latter movie, takes place during a summer in a young man’s life. (The year is 1991)  I think comparison of the two films ends there. Elijah Bynum’s film is about Daniel, who in the course of the summer, gets involved in selling weed, and Chalamet here channels a bit of Tom Cruise here circa Risky Business. I think there’s no doubt that Chalamet is a great actor – he is charming and fearless and fun to watch here, but his performance alone cannot elevate a tepid and familiar script. You have seen all this before, and sometimes better. I can’t think of any original idea here. Chalamet plays well with Alex Roe, who plays Hunter, the guy who lures Daniel into a life of crime. There’s a romantic distraction as Daniel falls for the hot chick in town, played by Maika Monroe, but they are all shiny objects trying to highlight an empty room. The whole cast deserve better than this bloated almost-two-hour film, and the audience does too.

Let Him Eat Cake (Film thoughts: The Cakemaker)

large_Cakemaker_PressPosterHQClosing out Pride month, I am writing about, for me,  the best ‘gay’ film since last year’s ‘Call Me By Your Name.’  Written and Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer, ‘The Cakemaker’ is one of those movies that got to me. After seeing the movie, I wanted to just get home and think about it in silence. It’s the story of a German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof, looking like a German Jonathan Groff) who falls in love with an Israeli businessman who travels monthly to Berlin. When the businessman suddenly dies in a car accident, Thomas flies to Jerusalem and gets involved in the life of the man’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler)

This is a great example of how grief ties people together. There is a lot of softness and delicacy on the film, and I was engrossed from the first frame. It speaks to me about how a connection (or disconnection) can make a lasting impact in one’s life, and the different ways we deal with grief. Thomas changes Anat’s life for he better, and while there’s a certain plot point in there that I theoretically did not believe in, thee are fine actors that I swallowed it whole. Kalkhof is fantastic here, muted and passive, yet expressing powerful emotions in a  nod and a glance, and Adler a formative match, vulnerable, determined, sympathetic. It shows us realities in modern day Israel – the dichotomy of being religious and liberal, of tradition and acceptance. By the end, I was sobbing, and I didn’t know why. Of course, I knew it was because of the sheer beauty of the film.


Fun Home (Film Thoughts: Ideal Home)

Ideal-Home-Poster-Hi-Res-2I watch a lot of these gay-themed movies, and even though I am glad they get made and improve queer visibility, some of them just irritate me to the core. For the month of June, I am trying to feature as much gay content in my writings here, and was looking forward to seeing ‘Ideal Home,’ if only because I am a Paul Rudd fan – he can most of the time do no wrong for me. Well, he still displays infinite charm here in this film, directed by Andrew Fleming. But his charm is not enough to save this sinking ship. In here he plays Paul, who is partnered with Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and out of the blue, a kid shows up in their doorstep, Angel, who is Erasmus’ grandchild. Hilarity ensues, right, as this gay couple tries to raise a kid.

But my main problem with the film is that the characters of Erasmus and Paul are so thin that we only get ‘personality’ instead of real human beings. They fight and bicker and insult each other, and it’s like being inside a car of a fighting couple: unpleasant, awkward, and the sense that you just want to get out of there. I hated my time with these people and could care less if they succeed with raising the child. Plus, the child is entitled and spoiled so really, who are you going to root for in this film?

Fleming based this story on his experiences in raising a child. Surely, his own life is more textured than the thin plot here. I was disappointed with this picture. Coogan and Rudd try to save it with charm, but that only goes so far. I try to rid my life of toxic people, and these characters are as toxic as they get.

Saving All Her Love (Film Thoughts: Whitney)

large_whitneyWhen I saw ads for ‘Whitney,” I thought to myself: didn’t I see this film before? Well, it turns out I was kinda right – there was an earlier documentary about her life, and I remember it was on Showtime. This is a different one (there are always competing ones, I just saw today that there is another Christopher Robin film) and is directed by Kevin Anderson. I didn’t know if I wanted to see this, but there was an LA heatwave, and two hours inside the movie theater sounded good.

I am glad I did – this was a well-done take on her life. Just like the earlier documentary, it focuses on the road to her demise – how did it get there, what really happened, etc – and her life here is as sad. (An older lady sitting behind me probably uttered ‘So sad’ more than a dozen times) Houston was such a special woman, with a God-given voice that touched hearts, and to this day I can and do listen to her songs regularly. Ultimately, like all great artists, she had a troubled soul, and in the end was unable to fight her demons. And those demons would be drugs, and poor life choices – entrusting her matters to the wrong people (His father squandered her millions, for example)  Add to that her inability to accept her sexual orientation (her hairdresser said she was definitely bisexual) and you have got the worst recipe for a disastrous life. The big reveal in this piece is the revelation that she and her brothers were sexually molester by her aunt, the singer Dee Dee Warwick, and unfortunately, that’s just a small footnote in a life full of triumphs and tragedy. The film doesn’t dwell much on her artistry – that’s probably a film still waiting to happen – but I can imagine it is hard not to focus on the salacious matters of her life. This film, even as it clocks at 120 minutes, is never boring because Whitney is never boring, and that is what makes her, and this film, special.

How The West Was Won (Movie Thoughts: Damsel)

448fbc785dbc82c905f79cfb2e254c87I am sure a lot of people liked ‘Damsel.’ The Zellner brothers (David and Nathan) have amassed a cult following, and my afternoon screening of this movie today was pretty packed. (I don’t think this crowd were twilight fans for Robert Pattinson. When the audience started clapping as the credits rolled, I shrugged. I did not really enjoy this movie – I thought it was overlong, and while there were funny moments, they were not laugh out loud (or silent) ones for me. I kind of appreciated it – it had some wit by turning over tropes in Western movies and slicing and dicing them. Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska were very good, and David Zellner, as a would-be preacher steals scenes from them. The movie is packaged pretty well, but it all boils down to taste. The film feels like a nice Western inspired painting, it just doesn’t go with my living room decor.

On A Familiar Road (Movie Thoughts: Boundaries)

bdrA road movie with Vera Fermiga and Christopher Plummer? Sounds good on paper, and really,  *almost* good. Shana Feste’s ‘Boundaries’ have strong performances from both, but the movie all in all is so weak that I lost interest in it pretty quickly. It relied on a lot of trope and predictable set-ups that if not for the two, I probably would have tuned out altogether. But Fermiga infuses a lot of charm here, even if her neurotic Laura can be a little hard to take, and Christopher Plummer, he is fantastic here, and he is really enjoying a late-in-career boost. He was sensational in ‘All The Money In The World’ taking over for Kevin Spacey and he continues his streak here. Watch this on a rainy day just for the performances.