Sunday, August 19, 2018

SKIN IN THE GAME: a review of "BlacKKKlansman"

Based upon Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Screenplay Written by David Rabinowitz & Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Directed by Spike Lee
**** (four stars)


I do not care how many people I would have to debate or battle, but without question, Spike Lee is unquestionably one of our greatest American filmmakers working today. Over the course of 32 years and nearly 30 films, which includes traditional narrative features, blistering satires and documentaries, Lee has produced an ouvre of an uncommonly high quality as he has masterfully fused provocative subject matter with enormous entertainment value producing a fearless body of work that has more than stood the test of time and relevance.

With the arrival of "BlacKKKlansman," his docudrama/crime thriller/political-social satire, Lee has emerged with one of 2018's tallest achievements but also with one of the finest films of his entire career as I am not entirely certain that I have seen a film which is essentially a period piece speak to the precise minute of 2018 as audaciously and as brilliantly as what he has accomplished here.

And even deeper, for a filmmaker who has confronted the powder keg issues of race and racism in America as consistently and (again) as fearlessly as he has in the past, Spike Lee explores this subject matter in a fashion that skeptics and his fiercest detractors would never allow him the credit: an uncompromising fair-mindedness. Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" is extraordinary, exhilarating and most importantly, downright essential filmmaking and storytelling and it demands to be fully experienced, exceedingly so at this tremendously frightening point in our cultural history.

Based upon the absolutely improbable but defiantly true story and memoir of Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" stars John David Washington (yes Denzel Washington's son) as Stallworth, who is hired as the first African-American police officer of the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1972. Initially ignored, devalued and in the case of one belligerent officer in particular, the odious Master Patrolman Andy Landers (played by Frederick Weller), openly harassed, Stallworth endures his role as the one and only Black officer on staff --albeit in the filing department--with a combined sense of resentment, repressed anger and utter boredom.

Soon, Stallworth requests to take on an undercover assignment, and is surprisingly given to him: to go and investigate the goings-on at a local rally organized by the Colorado College Black Student Union and featuring none other than Stokely Carmichael, now self-renamed Kwame Ture (an extraordinary Corey Hawkins), as guest speaker. After the rally, Stallworth is re-assigned to the intelligence division and begins the investigation that will alter the course of his life demonstrably.

Beginning with reading an advertisement in a local newspaper, Stallworth, utilizing his "White voice," phones the local chapter of the KKK and speaks with the group's president, Walter Beachway (Ryan Eggold) asking for information to join.  While the initial contact proves successful, there is one notable problem: Stallworth has used his real name.

Enter Detective Flip Zimmerman (beautifully portrayed by Adam Driver), who is Jewish, and is quickly recruited to act as Ron Stallworth for in-person meetings with the KKK members, including the fully radicalized Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen) and his increasingly unhinged wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson). This proves to be a sticky situation to say the least as Stallworth and Zimmerman have to work in seamless tandem to keep stories straight, as well as the sound of their own voices to match the phone and in-person communications with Klan members. And then, there is the increased tension surrounding Felix's suspicions that Zimmerman, acting as Stallworth, is actually Jewish.

Once Ron Stallworth eventually begins telephone conversations with David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the KKK (Topher Grace), complications mount and a plot of domestic terrorism rises, thus endangering the lives of Stallworth, Zimmerman and Black Student Union president Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), whom Stallworth has begun covertly dating.

Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" provocative, confrontational, controversial and it is also ingenious, dynamic, soulful, profoundly disturbing, electrifying, and enraging. Working beautifully with his key collaborators including Co-Screenwriter Kevin Willmott, Editor Barry Alexander Brown and Composer Terrence Blanchard, Lee delivers his film via his more classical, traditional mode as seen within films like "Malcolm X" (1992), "25th  Hour" (2002) and "Inside Man" (2006), and in doing so, and it is also one of his most accessible features to date and completely without softening the implicit and explicit messages contained throughout even one iota. "BlacKKKlansman" is a slow burn of a film but indeed one where the intensity accelerates furiously, just like an ignited flame hurtling towards the explosives at the end of the rope.

One long standing criticism held against Spike Lee is how his films tend to be over-stuffed with ideas, a criticism I have long dismissed as I believe his films to be richly multi-layered. "BlacKKKlansman" is no exception as even within his accessible style this time around, he makes ample room for social satire concerning the means in which Ron Stallworth was even able to first infiltrate the KKK at the outset--the utilization of the "White voice."

Essentially, this film could easily be viewed as a perfect double feature with Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You," itself a nightmarishly hallucinogenic satire about racial code switching and the irrevocable dangers of remaining complicit and refusing to get some skin in the game--and also a film that truly owes its existence to experiences like Lee's rabid cinematic fever dream satires of "Bamboozled" (2000), "She Hate Me" (2004) and "Chi-Raq" (2015).

Yet, this time around Lee tames his flights of fantastical elements and remains firmly grounded, slyly and richly illustrating that the plain, hard truth of the matter is indeed sometimes further down the rabbit hole than anything that could have been prefabricated. Because, honestly, who in their right  mind would have or could have even believed that a plan like Stallworth's could have ever proven itself to being successful, let alone ever having happened at all. But, incredulously, it did, thus allowing the characters that populated this experience, and now for us in the audience and even Lee himself to not solely confront, but to take a deep dive into the maelstrom of race and racism itself, most notably the differences and similarities between the respective movements of Civil Rights and Black Power compared and contrasted with the KKK and White nationalism.

For instance, let's take the stunning BSU Civil Rights rally sequence, featuring Kwame Ture, set early in the film. If there was a sequence created to showcase self-love for the Black community, it is indeed this one during which Ture passionately instructs Black people to not allow the dominant White society dictate to us our own inherent value as human beings plus our own skills, levels of intelligence and even beauty standards. As Ture speaks of the beauty contained within our natural hair, the thickness of our lips, the regal wideness of our noses, Lee lovingly injects close up images of the students in attendance spotlighting the very physical features of which Ture celebrates. By doing so, it is that self-love, that love we should share for ourselves as Black people--with ourselves as well as with each other--and it is a celebration that should occur entirely despite what White society dictates and bombards us with once we leave that rally and the movie theater, for that matter.

As Lee takes us deeper inside the workings of this Colorado chapter of the KKK via the lens of Flip Zimmerman, I have to make notation that the film could have easily made these figures easy, cartoonish targets for we already know where Spike Lee stands within the social-political stratosphere, but trust me, he does not. Again, we are presented a crucial quality about Lee's work that never receives enough notice (because it goes directly against the White media approved perception that  Spike Lee is that "angry Black man" who hates all White people): Lee's fair-mindedness. With "BlacKKKlansman," Spike Lee gives us a window into the world of White supremacists, from the homegrown true believers to David Duke himself and allows us to view their own sense of self-love, albeit the love housed inside the hatred and a perception of the world and their place within it that does fall into utter fantasy.

David Duke provides an impassioned speech during the film in which he describes the history of America through the White lens and in language that is remarkably reflective of everything we are hearing in 2018 through the so=-called alt-Right to even the President himself. Duke speaks of Whites discovery of America with the base of the Christian faith as its bedrock and influence, all the while also proclaiming about times that used to be that desperately need to become again. Sound familiar?

In this current 21st century age where we witness consistent push back against the Black Lives Matter movement, often being confronted with the firecracker question of "Well..what about White lives?" In this film, Spike Lee addresses this concern so explicitly as we get to know members of each side of this debate and frankly, to me, the answers are obvious. But let's read t hat a gain: "to me." What feels obvious to me and to some of you reading this posting is not obvious to others. If it was, we would not be having this debate whatsoever. So, to paraphrase what Spike Lee has been extolling throughout the entirety of his film career, and so plainly with "BlacKKKlansman" is the following: Pro-Black does not mean Anti-White!

To be Black and to celebrate oneself despite the values placed upon us by the dominant society, is a necessity essential to our own sense of survival: both physical and undeniably psychological. We need to love ourselves, to know about ourselves, our triumphs and tragedies in order to ensure that the history of us remains intact as we continue to push ourselves into the future.

To illustrate, Lee provides a harrowing, sobering sequence starring the iconic Harry Belafonte as an elderly activist who describes in excruciating detail a lynching he witnessed in 1916 to a group of Black students and activists.  It is a scene that presents precisely the primary difference between Black Civil Rights and White nationalism. For Black Civil Rights, it is about the preservation of a race within a dominant society. For White nationalists, it is the self-preservation of a race, within a fear based movement, at the expense of every other race not like themselves. In short, the lynching Belafonte describes to inform young Black people of the severity of the struggle is an act that would be delivered unto them by figures like David Duke and the Colorado Klansmen.

To delve even deeper, Spike Lee, a film historian as well as filmmaker, also presents how cinematic image do their part in shaping self-perceptions as well as those of others. One of the first images within "BlacKKKlansman" is a moment from Victor Fleming's "Gone With The Wind" (1939), during which we see a Confederate flag flying proudly in the wind overshadowing the legions of wounded and dead soldiers laying on the ground.

Later, we regard the Colorado KKK members adjoined, with the increasingly disgusting cackling laughter of Klansmember wife Connie Kendrickson, watching a print of D.W. Griffith's "The Birth Of A Nation" (1915)--a film I even had to study in film classes during the late 1980's--the film which is over-run with all manner of racist depictions of Black people and more disturbingly, the presentation of the KKK as  heroes, a m ove t hat helped considerably to re-ignite their presence in American society.

And even deeper than that, we even witness how images of Black people in films play within Black audiences, as Lee gives us a spirited debate between Ron Stallworth and Patrice Dumas regarding the virtues and fallacies within the Blaxploitation genre from Gordon Parks' Shaft" (1971), Gordon Parks Jr's "Super Fly" (1972) and Jack Hill's "Coffy" (1973).

And even then, Spike Lee goes deeper...

The performances of  John David Washington and Adam Driver are superlative in their chemistry and complexity. For Washington (who at times, eerily sounds like his own Father), his portrayal of Ron Stallworth is a study in a certain Black complacency that slowly finds itself pushed and challenged. For a man who wears a natural Afro so glorious that even Questlove woud be envious, and clearly understanding to how the world works regarding race, he seems to be fine with just riding the middle, not delving terribly far into any sense of activism, partially because he has always housed dreams of becoming a police officer, albeit a "Shaft" styled officer (regardless, an element about him that slides in conflict with the Black activists in the film). Furthermore, and even as he understands code switching by using his "White voice," Stallworth is also naive to the larger racial disparities and levels of racial hatred as he is called out by his own White police chief as such when he remarks his disbelief that anyone like a David Duke could ever become President of the United States. If he only knew...

To that end, by having Zimmerman, a Jewish man, venture into the KKK "lion's den" undercover, it feels as if Stallworth is equally naive in what this piece of the experience may mean to his partner. Adam Driver is sensational as he, as Zimmerman, is required to deliver a performance inside of another performance, tapping into a level of racism he abhors but may have to acknowledge possibly rests within himself due to the relative ease he is able to fall into the Klan members' racist rhetoric, language and epithets, all the way to speaking the very unspeakable about the Holocaust so as not to be discovered as being Jewish.

Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" indeed forces Stallworth and Zimmerman to undergo some serious self-examination but also Lee directly forces us in the audience to perform the same feats as he wants for us to fully recognize that these 1970's era events as presented in this film did not evaporate into the ghosts of the past. For what is past is prologue and in the case of this film, what is past is as present as just looking outside of our windows or better yet, directly into our own mirrors.

The entire experience of "BlacKKlansman" is designed and executed to tell a 1970's story that runs concurrently with the events of the present leading up to the minute in 2018. Yes, there are key lines of dialogue meant to mirror the words of the Trump Administration but it is not designed to cause nervous humor. It exists to draw the clearest lines possible from past to present, demonstrating how racist attitudes reverberate through time and in actuality, do not change a bit.

And you know, I just had a thought while writing this piece and I hope this is not seen as a wild reach. I have just had a thought that perhaps "BlacKKKlansman" is Spike Lee's allegory for the entirety of the Obama Presidency, its duration and its aftermath in becoming the Trump Presidency, the complete inverse of the eight years prior to the 2016 election.

Just think about it. Just as Barack Obama became the first Black President, signaling a certain progressive optimism and celebration, Lee gives us Ron Stallworth, the first Black police officer in Colorado Springs, itself a progressive move. For both Obama and Stallworth, they each were forced to endure the weight of what happens when one is the very first non-White to break a previously all-White glass ceiling (in fact, Stallworth is referred to as being the "Jackie Robinson" of this specific police force).

With Obama's 8 years, we have seen the quiet, under the surface racism and the building tension and resentment with this one Black male figure existing in a place that was once Whites only....just as what we see with Stallworth on the police force and therefore, leading this investigation into the KKK.  And soon, that once submerged tension begins to build, to boil and to overflow and explode into fully revealed and emboldened racism that encourages fear, division and violence, from either a ring of Klansmen burning a massive cross to the sight of neo-Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, leading to riots and the murder of Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protester of the "Unite The Right" rally, who was killed by a neo-Nazi who crashed his car into a crowd, an act of domestic terrorism unfathomably not denounced by President Trump.

For some, I could imagine that Spike Lee's inclusion of that very footage from Charlottesville might feel to be a bit ghoulish but for me, it was exactly the body slam needed to hammer with finality Lee's point that the events depicted in "BlacKKlansman" cannot be shoveled into some historical closet and to sit on the sidelines during these terrifying, perilous times could prove themselves to devastating in ways we have only imagined. Spike Lee, as always, wants us all to WAKE UP and get ourselves engaged by putting our collective skin in the game for everything we have imagined as not possibly happening IS indeed happening.

Entertaining, invigorating, infuriating and galvanizing, Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" is a towering accomplishment for the cinematic year of 2018.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

GROWING UP LONELY IN THE DIGITAL AGE: a review of "Eighth Grade"

Written and Directed by Bo Burnham
**** (four stars)

"...they're quite aware of what they're going through..."
-David Bowie ("Changes") 

I hated eighth grade.

Out of all of my years of schooling growing up, regardless of varying levels academic difficulty, there was no other year in my memory and reality that, to this day, instills such intense emotions. I remember that school year of 1982-1983 in full details, from its confounding, confusing beginnings to its miserable end absolutely vividly, completely and painfully--made even morseo, due to its arrival after the joyride that was seventh grade.

It was a year that served to fully pummel my already precarious sense of self-confidence. Aside from my strong performance in a brutal French class, my especially poor academic standing that year only felt fit to fuel a certain sense of early adolescent apathy that clashed with the increasingly enraged demands and palpable disappointment of my extremely strict and academically driven parents, who themselves were public school high school educators who rightfully had no time or money to waste upon my hefty private school tuition if I was not going to bother to either fully apply myself.

Yet, even with the relentless "under the microscope" attention from my parents to contend with, it was the social life at school that quickly became an emotional minefield, so much so, that I firmly believe that this particular year set the stage for many issues that I have lived with long into adulthood. Issues of body image, of racial identity and self-acceptance, of interpersonal fairness, of social competitiveness with peers or otherwise and always feeling undervalued and unaccepted, to even issues with self-parenting of which I am admittedly unforgiving and to my own detriment. It was also the year during which I had my heart so broken that it paved deep trenches into what I felt not only what love and relationships could or could not be, but even to questioning the value of love in the first place as there are no guarantees for love's reciprocation or endurance no matter how much or how deeply you give love to that other individual.

Frankly, that year nearly broke me as it hurt so constantly and seemingly endlessly. In fact, I have long realized that perhaps I was not alone in my feelings for when I attended my 20th high school reunion, I had a powerfully insightful conversation with a lovely classmate who, at the time of the reunion, was a professional therapist.

"What happened to us, Scott?" she asked.
"How do you mean?" I asked in return.
"Well, it felt like in 6th and 7th grade,  we were all friends and then, we got to 8th grade and we all just hated each other. I really had no idea of what happened or how or why. "

I knew exactly what she meant.

I hated eighth grade. And yet, for as much as I hated it, thank God that there was no such thing as Social Media at that time!

Dear readers, please allow me to tell you about how much I loved "Eighth Grade," the filmmaking debut from Writer/Director Bo Burnham. This is easily one of the finest films of 2018 as well as existing as one of the saddest due to its painfully perceptive approach which often feels like a "fly-on-wall" documentary rather than a fictionalized narrative.

What Burnham has achieved is a film that is exceedingly lived in and emotionally wrestled with yet is also meticulously observant that it simultaneously has much to say about the conclusion of the Middle School experience, itself a period of life that rarely receives any media attention in the movies or television, as well as our ever increasing cultural dependence/addiction towards Social Media. And yet, even with its tendency to cut to the bone in full recognition on what it means to be 12 or 13 years old, "Eighth Grade" also represents that exquisite splash of adult wisdom that allows the film to have some modicum of hopefulness, that light at the end of the tunnel, that signifies that this precarious time can be survived. This is a powerfully remarkable film.

"Eighth Grade" stars the wonderful Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, who we witness during her final week of Middle School all the way through to her graduation, with the anticipations and fears of entering high school looming largely.

While essentially plotless, Burnham creates a "slice of life" experience that allows us a front row seat into Kayla's emotionally and turbulently awkward social experiences and relationships with classmates as well as her single Dad, Mark (an equally terrific Josh Hamilton) as well as her vibrantly alive inner world, which is fretfully, anxiously, hopefully, and often distressingly attempting to make sense of her life.

While at home, Kayla creates a collection of You Tube videos which are designed to serve as messages of advice for social acceptance by one's peers to her peers (and all of which conclude with her personal sign off "Gucci!"), it is advice that she is barely able to utilize for herself when in public.

In her videos, Kayla is rather loquacious and socially astute, yet in person, she rarely speaks a word, preferring to remain silent to the point of being nearly invisible...except when she is presented the bewildering public "award" of "Quietest Student" during an all school assembly. And in later scenes as she attempts to catch the attention of the skinny, sleepy eyed popular bad boy Aiden (Luke Prael), or when she reluctantly attends a highly popular classmate's pool party, words fail her, she is unable to connect to anyone and just regard how she folds her body inwards upon itself, as if she could box herself into nothingness. And then, poor Kayla's social anxiety mounts until that blessed moment when she can return to the cocoon of her Smartphone, walling out the real world as she seeks some sense of validation in the virtual world, while taking her pain and angrily lashing out against her loving, yet equally awkward, Dad in the process.

Earlier this summer, I criticized Brad Bird's "Incredibles 2" for existing as yet another movie to trot out cliched attitudes about Fathers yet since then, I have been so very pleased to see movies that do present Fathers in more favorably realistic fashion, serving as a much needed antidote.

Specifically, I am surprised to see that "Eighth Grade" is actually the third film I have seen in these few moths that features a stirring Father/daughter dynamic, from movies as varied as John Krasinski's thriller "A Quiet Place" and Brett Haley's exquisite quasi-musical "Hearts Beat Loud." In fact, as I watched "Eighth Grade," my mind turned often to "Hearts Beat Loud" as that film could almost serve as a sequel, or  better yet, a companion piece to the events depicted in "Eighth Grade" as Fathers are so deeply in love with their children and yet are housed with an aching pain of not being able to fully connect with their respective daughters, and therefore, fearing a loss of parental access, let alone communication. And yet, within "Eighth Grade" there is that elephant in the room, the elephant so large that it possesses space so enormous that it threatens to separate us from each other entirely.

If there has ever been a film that could serve as an indictment of Social Media, Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" could very well be that film as I do not think that I have ever felt such dismay at the sight of those glowing Smartphone and laptop screens as I did during this film. Burnham's film feels to be of a piece with David Fincher's "The Social Network" (2010) and Spike Jonze's "Her" (2013), as both of those films serve as cultural warnings through their visions of our society at the dawn of Social Media and a darkly imagined future, respectively.

Yet, what warning could serve the greatest impact but to present the world as we know it just as it is regarding our over-reliance, and again, I feel that Burnham is arguing is actually a societal addiction to Social Media, an addiction that is indeed fueling a certain spiritual decay? Through the character of Kayla Day,  her daily journey is a mirror of our own as our nothing less than our sense of existentialism is now being found, and nurtured, such as it is, within the digital world and we are all left feeling somewhat emptier in the process. 

I think one of the most telling sequences in the film regarding this concept exists within the aforementioned birthday pool party sequence when the birthday girl Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) opens up her presents in full view of her guests as her Mother not-so-surreptitiously snaps photos, most likely to upload, thus continuing an on-line narrative about the wonderment of her and  her daughter's lives, yet in actuality, everyone seems to be miserable as the jaded Kennedy openly scoffs at Kayla's gift, thus humiliating her.

At school, Kayla attempts to try to connect with classmates but they are all lost in their phones. Another sequence late in the film and set at the local shopping mall, where Kayla has been invited by the affectionately chirpy high school student Olivia (Emily Robinson) to join her and her high school friends in the Food Court, all of the kids discuss the times during which they were first exposed and allowed to utilize Social Media, during which we learn that Kayla first used Snapchat while in the 5th grade. 

Beyond those sequences, Kayla is rarely seen without her phone and earbuds, the synthetic glow illuminating her sadness day and deeply into the night and with no sense of absolution. Her Dad, Mark is also not immune as he also retreats to  his digital world late at night, with that same synthetic glow illuminating his sadness after another evening of being unable to connect with Kayla. And so, in "Eighth Grade," Bo Burnham has expertly fashioned an examination of a culture consumed with loneliness within the very medium that was supposed to bring us all together and for those in early adolescence, the misery of not ever being able to get away from the social dynamics that are hurting us in the first place.

Even with all of this material, it could be argued that Social Media does indeed serve a certain purpose for even though Kayla is consumed with loneliness, she does utilize Social Media, her You Tube channel and videos specifically to work out her issues, her problems, her fears and possible solutions to each area...even if she is unable to bring them into fruition in the real world. Essentially, her videos become messages of self-affirmation. In many ways, Kayla is the embodiment of the David Bowie quotation that has opened this posting and has iconically, served as the opening statement to the ultimate cinematic exploration of adolescence,  John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club" (1985).

For as much as we in the audience ache with and for her, we can also see that Kayla Day is a girl who knows herself and her limitations extremely well, therefore knowing precisely what she is going through as well as the problem solving she undertakes in order to emotionally survive this painful time. On a more crucial level, and during a truly frightening extended sequence set in the back seat of a car between Kayla and a high school boy, regarding how she navigates this predicament showcases a palpable strength that she (and we in the audience) possibly never realized she possessed.

It felt so fitting to see "Eighth Grade" on the very day before the ninth anniversary of John Hughes' passing as this film could possibly owe its own existence to the game changing sextet of high school films Hughes wrote, produced and directed (twice with the aid of Director Howard Deutch) during the mid 1980's as Hughes possessed the audacity to not only create films for a teenage audience that expressed distinctly that the lives and experiences of adolescents were worth exploring. Furthermore, and within those films, Hughes created a collective of strong female characters during an age and genre in film when females (often nameless) solely existed to satisfy the prurient interests of the teenage boys in the audience as well within the films themselves.

Since that specific time, which for me concluded with Cameron Crowe's golden "Say Anything..." (1989), which itself held a terrific central heroine as played by Ione Skye, we have been given creative films with three dimensional heroines and viewpoints as varied as Mark Waters and Tina Fey's "Mean Girls" (2004), Will Gluck's "Easy A" (2010), James Ponsoldt's"The Spectacular Now" (2013), Kelly Fremon Craig's "The Edge Of Seventeen" (2016) and Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" (2017).  And now, Bo Burnham has deftly picked up that mantle and has created one of the best young female characters I have seen in film due to the sheer purity of the conception of Kayla Day and Elsie Fisher's miraculous performance of her.

Elsie Fisher's performance is one of expert authenticity as she never once strikes a false note or delves into hyperbole or melodrama. Again, she creates a piercing realty of the type that I had to check and re-check to see that she is indeed a gifted actress and that this film is not a documentary.  Fisher ensures that you understand and sympathize with Kayla every moment of the film, even during points when she is infuriating and downright cruel to her Dad, lending to many moments when you would just wish to reach into the film to try and offer this girl some comfort. Believe me, Fisher is so powerfully effective that in the moment when Kayla is invited to the mall, meaning that finally, at long last, she may have found a real life friend, she will just shatter you with her vulnerability and you just wish for her full acceptance and overall happiness.

To that end, when she faces disappointments or is confronted with her own wishes for herself as evidenced through the school assignment of a time capsule made in 6th grade to be re-opened before the 8th grade graduation, Kayla Day's existential crisis reaches a certain pinnacle as she is forced to ask herself serious questions concerning her own sense of self-worth, whether she is deserving of love and acceptance and whether she could ever truly be the person she wishes to become, the self-described "Coolest Girl On Earth"--yet, not through any sense of prefabricated popularity but what I felt to be a certain sense of self-assuredness and accomplishment. 

Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" took me directly back to that wretched school year of my past, PTSD flashbacks and all. But, Burnham achieved this feat with a superior artistry and empathy that did serve to beautifully soothe the wounds of the past. Yet most importantly, and just as what Richard Linklater achieved with his masterpiece, "Boyhood" (2014), Burnham delivered an intelligent, deeply felt, richly sensitive chronicle of a young girl with a matter-of-fact quality that perfectly allowed the inherent drama of the story, character and age to present itself without provocation.

For those Middle School years are more than turbulent enough.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


The "dog days" of Summer have arrived and with that, our movie season tends to slow down a bit before ramping up again for the Autumn. Thankfully, there are three films that I wish to screen for certain this month and hopefully, I am able to get to all of them, with Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" being top priority!!!

Yes in deed, when Spike Lee releases a film (which has been in short supply in recent years compared with his prolific output 20-30 years ago) it is an event unquestionably and with this, a 1970's period piece based  upon true events yet designed to provide a commentary upon our increasingly divisive racial politics in 2018, it could not have arrived at a better time.

In addition...

1. Writer/Director Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" is already receiving enormous critical praise as well as from audiences and that film, which has just arrived in my city is already upon my personal want-to-see list...even if the thought of reliving my eighth grade is giving me PTSD flashbacks.

  2. "Juliet, Naked," Director Jesse Peretz's adaptation of the outstanding Nick Hornby novel is also one t hat I must make time for once that film arrives in my city as well.

And then, there my annual tribute to Writer/Producer/Director John Hughes, who passed away nine years ago on August 6th, and whose work will forever be an inspiration for everything I write. I hope to be able to fit this in this month because I wanted to take this tribute to celebrate what is my #1 favorite film from John Hughes..."She's Having A Baby," which reached its 30th anniversary this year.

So much to get to in a month that will provide a lot of transitions to be certain as Summer winds down and heads into Fall. As always, please do wish me luck and I'll see you when the house lights go down!!