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Eighth Grade

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

“Thanks for watching. Gucci.”

It’s the last week of eighth grade for Kayla May (Elsie Fisher), a shy teen who dreams of attaining the confidence that seems just out of reach. In her spare time she films and uploads motivational videos for her YouTube channel. She’s talkative on screen but at school she says very little and has no real friends. She lives with her dad (Josh Hamilton), and Kayla, like many kids her age, is overly concerned with how her dad’s behavior affects her social standing. We follow Kayla over the span of one week as she gets voted most shy, examines the contents of her 6th grade time capsule, gets invited to a popular kid’s birthday pool party, lusts after the hot kid in her class, befriends a high school girl and hangs out with a new friend and possible love interest, Gabe (Jake Ryan). Every single event, no matter how big or small, is fraught with tension, excitement, and fear. It’s clear that the advice that Kayla gives in her YouTube videos and the life she leads online is very different from her day-to-day reality.

Eighth grade is a pivotal time in the life of a young teenager. They are on the brink of a big shift in their lives both socially and academically with high school just around the corner. Still in the throes of all the changes that come with puberty, everything is new, different and constantly in flux. Every social situation to them is life or death. Their status in eighth grade sets the bar for what’s to come.

Director Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is an ode to coming of age in a world where social media is part of our every day lives. But for adults watching the film, it’s also a story about anxiety and its overwhelming effects. As someone who was as timid as Kayla was at her age and as an adult who deals with social anxiety every day, I found this film and Kayla’s character endlessly relatable. Just watching the film brought up those feelings of anxiety as I was embarrassed on Kayla’s behalf. I know those situations so intimately and the memory of them is so vivid. That moment when Kayla is at the pool party, looks through the pane of glass to the kids outside, takes a deep breath and walks out, I felt that moment because I’ve lived it so many times. Burnham’s film was therapy for me. Allowing me to process a lot of these emotions as I followed Kayla on her journey.

The best scenes in the movie are the interactions Kayla has with her dad, played by Josh Hamilton. When Kayla explains to her dad he’s being silent wrong, or when she catches him staring at her and her friends at the mall, or the loving conversation by the fire, those moments all reminded me of moments I had with my parents. They’re raw, real, hard to watch but necessary too.

In an interview with Alicia Malone on the FilmStruck podcast, Bo Burnham said he auditioned many kids for the lead role and he saw something in Elsie Fisher that he didn’t see in the other kids. The other actresses were confident kids pretending to be shy. Fisher is the real deal. She brings so much authenticity to her performance. And I love that she’s the character’s age, she has the body type and skin type of pretty much any young girl that age. If you gave her dark eyes, dark hair and an olive skin tone, she’d look exactly like I did in junior high. I could relate to Eighth Grade in a way I couldn’t with Lady Bird. Burnham’s feature debut is a winner and I can’t wait to see more from him.

As a DVD Director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Eighth Grade is available to rent on DVD.com 

Ophelia

guest review by Daniel Eagan

Shakespeare’s famously mad victim gets to tell her story in a visually sumptuous adaptation of Lisa Klein’s novel.

Flipping the point of view of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia redefines a character who rarely gets her due. Handsomely mounted, and with a strong cast, the film is ideally positioned to profit from a new alignment in cultural sensitivities.

Adapted by Semi Challas from a young adult novel by Lisa Klein, the script starts years before Hamlet, with Ophelia (played by Mia Quiney) a youngster roaming the castle Elsinore with her brother Laertes. Surprised that Ophelia can read, and has her own opinions, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) takes her into her court.

It’s a dangerously unsettled court, with Claudius (Clive Owen) angling to remove his brother as king and take Gertrude for himself. Once in her teens, Ophelia (now played by Daisy Ridley) is hemmed in by intrigues, bickering among rivals, and the attentions of a love-sick Hamlet (George MacKay).

Finding her way without being assaulted, exiled, or losing her head requires the kind of quick reflexes and sullen courage Ridley displayed so well in her recent Star Wars outings. In fact Star Wars fans will feel at home with the plot’s infighting, hidden family relationships, and hurled imprecations.

Director Claire McCarthy seems to be aiming for a Game of Thrones vibe as well, but a carefully PG one that skims over the seriously sick doings at Elsinore. Shakespeare purists, meanwhile, will gnash their teeth over Ophelia’s liberties, like evil twin sisters and one-too-many scenes by the river.

Rethinking Hamlet from a feminist perspective makes sense enough. It’s just that McCarthy opted for a far sunnier take than the story warrants. Compare the sun-decked corridors, lissome dances and dewy glances here to the cold, stark, yet bustling and undeniably funny world Yorgos Lanthimos imagined for The Favourite.

Ophelia unfolds in a smooth, polished way, always pleasing to look at, not very demanding. Instead of facing mounting terror leading to irrevocable choices, Ridley’s character strides serenely through her scenes, always confident that her happy ending will arrive on time. But as each piece of Shakespeare’s play clicks into place, and the corpses pile up, Ophelia does manage to become an improbable survivor.

About the author: Daniel Eagan lives in New York City and writes for Film Journal, Filmmaker, American Cinematographer, and other outlets He has finished two books on the National Film Registry for Bloomsbury Press and is currently working on a biography of Sylvia Chang.

Follow Daniel Eagan on Twitter: @Film_Legacy 

A Moment in the Reeds

A MOMENT IN THE REEDS Final Poster

“I never thought this would happen here.”

Set in the Finnish countryside, A Moment in the Reeds follows the story of Leevi (Janne Puustinen) a college student on summer break. He’s helping his father, Jouko (Mika Melender) renovate the family’s lakeside home. The have a strained relationship made worse by the death of Leevi’s mother. This project is an opportunity for the two to bond but unfortunately they can’t see eye-to-eye on most things. Jouko hires Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), an English-speaking Syrian immigrant who doesn’t understand a lick of Finnish. Leevi serves as translator between the two. When his father’s business takes him away from the project leaving the two behind, they bond and soon discover their undeniable attraction to each other. In the Finnish summer when the days are long and the weather is more forgiving, Leevi and Tareq spend every waking moment together in each others arms. The threat of Jouko finding out about their relationship and the realization that their lives will take them in different directions prevents them from fully opening up to each other. Will what Leevi and Tareq have last for more than just a few summer days?

A Moment in the Reeds was written, directed and edited by Mikko Makela. This is his featured debut and one of the first LGBTQ films to come from his homeland of Finland. This is a quiet story with a few moments of real intensity. It’s spare, raw and poetic. More is said with a look than with words. The cinematography style with a hand-held camera gives the film a more intimate vibe. There are only four actors in the film and the majority of screen time is devoted to Leevi and Tareq’s story. Not much happens in the plot. It’s more about the connection between two people and the struggle between giving into physical attraction and protecting your emotional state when you’re scared to be hurt. The film is God’s Own Country (2017) meets Call Me By Your Name (2017) set in Finland. Some may find it a bit too quiet but others will appreciate it’s more intimate and subdued tone.

A Moment in the Reeds is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

The Rainbow Experiment

Rainbow Experiment

“The world you see is just a movie in your mind.”

Matty (Conor Siemer) is just an ordinary high school student. Like his fellow classmates in class, he acts out, challenges the faculty and puts on a show for his friends. When his chemistry teacher gives him a task, things go horribly awry as a fireball explodes in his face, sending him, in critical condition to the hospital. This is a catalyst for events that follow, as the authorities, the faculty, the parents and the students all try to make sense of this tragic event and come to terms with their own demons.

The Rainbow Experiment studies the way people react to trauma. The film is raw, powerful and experimental. The motley crew of characters, all connected to the protagonist Matty in some way directly or indirectly, range from the most level-headed to borderline insane. They employ defense mechanisms, placing and displacing blame. The movie breaks the fourth wall with Matty appearing as a somewhat ghostly figure, examining the events at the high school, while his still living body remains at the hospital, and relates his observations to the viewer. Inventive cuts and split screens help depict the divisiveness of the situation and the ensuing chaos. As the movie progresses and the characters try to make sense of what happened, it becomes less and less about the victim and more about everyone’s own struggles.

“People make choices and those choices affect other people.”

The Rainbow Experiment expertly explores the failure to communicate between adults and teens. The us against them mentality, evident on both sides, reaches a boiling point after this tragic event and the film deconstructs the ramifications of that toxic mindset. This film is bold, unsettling and should be required viewing. And for those of you who quit a movie at the very sight of the end credits, you’ll miss the inventive dual ending.

Written, directed and produced by Christina Kallas, The Rainbow Experiment premiered in January at the Slamdance Festival. I look forward to seeing more from this innovative filmmaker.

Gravitas Ventures is releasing The Rainbow Experiment in theaters, DVD and digital on December 7th.

 

 

Swiped

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 “One day I will code an app that will make a difference.”

Coding genius and all-around tech nerd James (Kendall Ryan Sanders) is off to a bad start in his first semester in college. Upon arrival, he’s confronted by a trio of bullish classmates who don’t want to do any work in Professor Barnes’ (Kristen Johnston) introduction to computer science course. This trio includes James’ lady killer roommate Lance (Noah Centineo) and his two knuckle-headed friends Dylan (Christian Hutcherson) and Daniel (Nathan Gamble). Matching their desire for anonymous campus liasons and a cover for their course workload, Lance convinces James to create a hook-up app called Jungle. In this app, men and women find matches but are not allowed to learn names or to commit to future dates or any sort of relationship. For James, anonymous and purely physical hook-ups hold no appeal. Instead he’s looking for a lasting connection with Hannah (Shelby Wulfert), the girl he embarrassed at prom and with whom he’s still hopelessly smitten. When the app spreads like wildfire and cannot be contained, it starts negatively affecting users, especially women who are looking for a more lasting connection. The final straw for James is when he learns that his mother Leah (Leigh-Allyn Baker) is using the app. It’s time for some major disruption!

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Directed by Ann Deborah Fishman, Swiped is a tender-hearted comedy about the importance of face-to-face connections in an increasingly disconnected world. The story has many layers. It’s a examination into the changing landscape of modern dating. It’s also a celebration of what makes us all different. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I love any movie that lifts us up rather than bringing us down. My favorite part of this movie is the multi-generational comedy with the college age youth in James’ world, his relationship with his high school age sister who is showing signs of emotional disconnect and James’ divorced parents who are navigating the dating world as middle-aged singles. Perhaps the most poignant of all is James’ grandparents Phil (George Hamilton) and Sunny (Alana Stewart), who serve as an example of a long-term relationship completely void of the technology that is complicating the lives of their children and grandchildren. I was drawn to this film as a fan of George Hamilton and I loved his scenes, especially those with Sanders who plays his grandson James. There are some funny and touching moments where we see grandpa Phil trying to get his family to reconnect with the people around them. I especially enjoyed the speech Phil gives to James when James asks what he should be looking for and Phil replies “you have to face people face to face to find it.”

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When we discuss how female filmmakers have the potential to positively affect the representation of women, this can be seen in Swiped. Ann Deborah Fishman not only directed but also wrote and produced this movie. The female characters, even those who have small roles, are multi-faceted. And in general, every character in this story has the potential to be a caricature but instead they all defy their own stereotypes. I found this incredibly refreshing.

Swiped is available on digital. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, Vudu, FandangoNow, iTunes and Vimeo On Demand.

 

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