Eighth Grade (R)
This film could not have been made without iPhones and iPads. The cast—adults and kids are always on their devices, cracked screens or not. The cast of largely unknowns is remarkably consistent, though the performance by Elsie Fisher as Kayla is amazing in every regard. Her father, Mark (Josh Hamilton), is brilliant in support and wrings every atom of agony out of being a single father of an adolescent girl always wearing earphones. His “helicoptering” at the mall is especially painful.
You may think you’ve seen this film before: adolescent girl, a bit chubby, with a ravaging case of acne, trying to finish eighth grade so she can get to the paradise of high school, but you really haven’t until you’ve seen this film. Director Bo Burnham molds his cast into an ensemble to present a story that will resonate with every parent who has been through those years and every parent or single parent who is facing them.
Kayla is not popular and is suffering from it. She makes a series of (we suspect) largely unwatched YouTube videos from the point of view of someone who is cool and popular and knows what’s happening. Only it’s all a fraud. Her saddest video is called “How to Be Confident”—something that Kayla definitely is NOT! Caught in a game of “Truth or Dare,” she refuses to do the easy thing for someone who wants to be popular and suffers for it. One of the most painful scenes in the film is Kayla’s cringing approach to a swimming pool at Kennedy’s party (Catherine Oliviere). She also gives a clever gift to Kennedy, but it is scorned as not being “cool.” A dweeby nerd likes her (Luke Prael as Aiden), but he’s not cool either so she finds herself copying her trendy but treacherous friends.
There is a scene near the end of the film with Aiden consisting of chicken nuggets and fries with every seasoning imaginable that is quite tender and effective. It also signals that Kayla may be starting to realize her potential.
Mark is drawn as not a bad father, but a helpless one in the face of all the hormones and lack of help. Still, he never becomes maudlin. We find that his wife left him for unknown reasons, but all in all, he’s doing rather well with Kayla. Facing her dejection and disappointment in him, he tells her: “I was trying to help you, OK?” That is not satisfactory for an eighth-grader.
Effective use of music is another strong point, especially the almost hysterically overdone leitmotiv for Riley (Daniel Zolghadri), the object of Kayla’s crush. This is a tough film to watch for parents, but it is a wonderful film, made with love and understanding for everybody involved. It might be a great film to see with your middle schooler!
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (PG-13)
This might have been a five-star movie, but then the large audience started giggling and outright laughing at the absurdity of it all. I must admit, I said, “Good lord” long before the entire audience lost it, but I was glad it happened as it cemented my judgment of this very long (2:27) “thriller.” Or is it a comedy? Or a circus act? The stunts are spectacular and never-ending: jumping from building to building; running full speed into a motorcycle and merely getting up and cleaning your leather jacket; jumping into you don’t know what and finding a survivable landing (several times); a sort of funny chase in which Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt actually broke his leg and they left it in the picture.
One thing the film proves is that Henry Cavill as August Walker should have stayed with Superman—the man cannot act for beans. He is the villain of the piece while Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell all but steal the show.
A progression of beautiful women tempt Hunt, including Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, Vanessa Kirby as White Widow and Michelle Monaghan as Julia Meade-Hunt, Ethan’s much-missed ex. Alec Baldwin makes a sort of serial cameo as Alan Hunley of the CIA while Angela Bassett plays his boss. Sean Harris plays the arch-villain Solomon Lane, designer of a triple-headed nuclear device that he wants to use as proof that civilization as we know it isn’t worth it any more.
The signature line in the film is “I’ll figure it out,” and that turns into comedy as nobody can figure all this stuff out.
Finally, there is an epic helicopter chase that had lots of folks in hysterics. It goes so far over the top that the audience is left helpless with amazement at the guts it took to try to make the whole sequence believable. That’s where this film definitely lost its last star for me: It is just too stupidly implausible and over-acted. I know it will make billions for its action sequences and for its dumb plot, but we must have some integrity. Enjoy it and see how long you last until you finally give in to helpless laughter.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (PG)
This is the worst movie of the summer by far. Made for adults, based on “in” jokes that are not really funny about the world of superheroes and Hollywood, its script is totally incomprehensible to anyone under 12. Its plot is beyond bad. There is an early extended fart joke, an extended poop joke later, and two “cameos” by Stan Lee, the Marvel creator who finds himself in a DC Comics script, a Shia LaBeouf reference, Gene Hackman—the list goes on.
There is no imagination here as the animation is strictly low-budget, along with the script. This thing would have trouble finding a spot on Saturday morning, and I cannot imagine an animated film less targeted to its audience than this whole mess. Avoid this trash at all costs.