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Impossible Tom Cruise stunts, teen life in Eighth Grade and real journalism in Shock & Awe

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EIGHTH GRADE: Movies about teens come around quite often but few of them are as real, resonant and up to date as this one. There’s no bullying here, no fighting with parents, no snooty mean girls, no any of the usual. This is a true to life picture of one girl’s growing up depicted in small incidents. Anybody can connect because most everybody goes through a version of the same. Figuring out how you rate at school, for instance, in this case middle school, which we know as junior high.  When the principal announces what he calls “the superlatives,” Kayla learns she’s been voted “the quietest.” At the pool she’s shy about her body. Her face is marked with acne. A normal kid, quietly dealing with her anxieties.

 

At home she speaks advice into her YouTube channel on subjects like Being Yourself (“Ignore them”), Putting Yourself Out There (“Go to places you don’t usually go”) and Confidence (“Make yourself confident.”) Naturally, these are exactly the challenges she has to face herself. We see her muddle through in the cafeteria, at a party, at dinner with dad trying to talk to her and in a car with a guy trying to get her to take her shirt off. Elsie Fisher does a remarkable job playing her. She’s so natural she doesn’t seem to be acting. The script, the ambience and the general understanding of her world is from Bo Burnham, the director who also started on YouTube and then in stand-up comedy. He’s made a smart, sometimes funny and always evocative film. (5th Avenue, where you have to be 19 or up to get in) 5 out of 5

SHOCK AND AWE: I for one am happy that there are still people out there making films as strong and radical as this. Documentaries do it all the time; this one is a drama. Evaluated as a movie it doesn’t rate too high because it plays a bit like an op-ed piece.  But as analysis of how people can be fooled with a lie, it’s tops, and immensely relevant today.

 

The time is 15 years ago. The George W. Bush administration was looking for a response to the terrorist attacks that toppled the World Trade Centres in New York. Somebody came up with the idea of attacking Iraq. (Apparently a long-held desire). But on what pretext? Sadaam Hussein who hated Osama Bin Laden wasn’t involved in 9-11. Weapons of Mass Destruction, said George Bush. He must be stopped from using them. The evidence was fake, but papers like The New York Times and Washington Post printed what the White House told them and war went ahead. All that is known. This film is about the reporters who didn’t buy the official line. They worked for a consortium of 31 Knight-Ridder newspapers. Rob Reiner is the bureau chief (he also directed) and James Marsden, Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones, as reporters, present and past, do the digging. They work their contacts, cultivate leads, get leaks and detail a massive deception going on. Some of their papers, it’s not clear how many, refused to run those stories.  The national mood was with Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, all seen in actuality from the time and you hear some surprising names in the go-to-war vote. As drama it’s unsubtle and obvious. As a piece of protest journalism, it packs a punch. (International Village) 3 out of 5

BLINDSPOTTING: The title is explained along the way: it means looking so intently at something that you miss seeing something just as important nearby. In this film, set in Oakland, Calif., race and class compete for attention. The hood is alive with black culture but gentrification is chipping away at it. Family pictures go out with the trash from a house to be demolished. A 140-year-old oak tree has been cut down.  “Kill a hipster. Save the hood,” reads a sign.

In that community, finely detailed but changing fast, we spend time with two long time friends (that’s them in an Uber driver’s car) played by real-life friends who also wrote the film. Daveed Diggs, an award-winner for Hamilton, is black; his pal, Rafael Casal, is white but in a stark flip from what usually happens in films like this, the white guy is the boisterous impetuous one. Daveed is trying to be cool, staying out of trouble as the last three days of his probation creep to a close. We find out much later why he was in jail. Right now both are working for a moving company; they love to spout rap poetry together and Casal has an annoying habit of acting loose with a gun he carries. There’s enough there already to portend trouble but there’s more. Daveed sees a white cop shoot a black man, can’t react because he has to get home to comply with his curfew and is beleaguered by doubts about what to do. The story takes an all-to-easy next step but the film overall has a powerful, entertaining even, take on urban anger, race relations and friendship. (International  Village ) 4  out of 5

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