Considering his other film of 2018 was the abysmal and insensitive Death Wish remake, Eli Roth’s pivot to the child-oriented The House With A Clock In Its Walls (based on the young adult novel of the same name from Edward Gorey) may have taken quite a few people off guard. However, while I’ll admit the thought of him filming a horror story for kids had never crossed my mind until this announcement, it seemed like an area that Eli Roth may finally be able to shine in. Roth is well known for his over-the-top style of horror that can be interpreted either as enjoyable campy fun, or ridiculously stupid schlock depending on who you ask. Most of the time, I fall into the latter category but, just like a mother who keeps sending her deadbeat son checks in the mail, I always believed that Roth had a raw potential that was being wasted. The parts of Eli Roth’s style that I do enjoy always revolved around the obvious fun that he has on set, and the pure love he has for horror as a genre. What better place to explore that melodramatic dialogue and mess around with silly effects and scenarios than in a children’s horror film? Sure, he can’t be as bloody and insane as he is in all of his other movies, but the kitschy-ness of his style that usually comes across as messy or in poor taste would fit right in with a film all about an exuberant warlock and his larger-than-life house. This is what I wanted, what I hoped for, what I was really excited for. This is not what A House With a Clock In Its Walls gave me. Instead, what I got was a film that felt like the director himself had slept through it.
From a cultural perspective alone, there’s a lot about Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade that fascinates me. To put it lightly, it’s simply surreal to witness Burnham – a classic YouTube star turned musical stand-up comedian known for his edgy humor – make his first foray into the film medium as a writer and director. It’s perhaps even more surreal that his debut, an indie dramedy about a pre-teenage girl’s last week of middle school, also happens to be one of the best films of 2018 thus far. Burnham’s behind-the-camera presence is more than just a marketing gimmick, his identity is embedded in the DNA of the narrative. It goes without saying that this film is one that could not have been made even ten, maybe even five years ago.
Whether in consequence of A24’s clever marketing or their inherent legacy as indie distributors, the film has been compared to the likes of Lady Bird. While the sentiment is nice, that implies an entirely different film than Eighth Grade is. Lady Bird and the coming-of-age genre are characterized by throwbacks, sweet self-reflective dramas following a character during a time of challenge, change, and transition in their life. While Burnham’s debut carries over some of those elements, make no mistake – for this is far from a nostalgic piece. In fact, Eighth Grade is a film about the everyday anxieties of the edge of fifteen, but its also about the daily horrors the current generation of kids are living in. While the past and even future are still part of its thematic journey, the predominant focus of Eighth Grade is what is happening now.
In the world that Nicole Holofcener paints, women hold the power and the issues that power cause: conflicts, repercussions, and so forth. She doesn’t shy away from social friction in the daily life of womanhood. We see this in many of her films: Enough Said and the clumsiness in dating within your own circle of friends and acquaintances, the emotional endeavour that families go through in Lovely & Amazing, and of course Friends With Money and how the class difference in your surrounding causes insecurity and envy. This is one of Holofcener’s many qualities that she brings out into the world of American cinema. By mixing the comical aspect of surviving with the midlife crisis, she is able to pinpoint the deepest desires in every human being. She does it with an easiness and relatability that mirrors our luxurious aspiration in life.
In The Land of Steady Habits, she studies the life of a man in the midst of a crisis. Ben Mendelsohn stars as Anders, a middle-aged individual veering through the struggle of divorce, retirement, and losing the hegemony of parenting. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco) and his son Preston (Thomas Mann) didn’t do much justice to his newfound freedom. The first shot of the film already captures the confusion of his life now, as he saunters through what looks like Bed, Bath, and Beyond on a shopping spree. Stacks of colorful towels intimidate him somehow. What he wants is to be in charge of the search for his own happiness, which is okay. But for him, this comes with consequences – emotional baggage, a fully realized sense of emptiness, and series of impotency. The tedious tasks of being a divorcee, like decorating his own place, now seems like a chore – a departure to what he thought he wanted, of what he dreamt of before.
Last week, Lawrence surprisingly returned, hopefully putting the Lawrence hive to rest, and this episode picks up by updating viewers on what he’s been doing since we saw him last. And he’s been doing a lot. He’s exceeding expectations at work. He has his own place and his couch has been plenty useful as he’s engaged in frequent casual sex with numerous women. To top it off, he finds out he has chlamydia! Of course, he now must make multiple calls warning his past sexual partners (very Lovesick-esque) and is met with unpleasant responses. His recent health history obviously isn’t great, but, other than that, he’s doing pretty great post-Issa – as he should be. The former lovers’ reunion at Tiffany’s baby shower is perfect because they acknowledge and praise how much they each have grown without opening any romantic doors. I hope we don’t see anymore Lawrence storylines simply because his time in the story has passed, but it’s nice to see he’s doing okay.
Suburban noir has become a big draw for book and film lovers alike. Ever since Amy Dunne declared “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead,” few have tried and failed to recreate Gone Girl’s genius. Comedy god Paul Feig’s newest film is irresistible, but misses some steps on its way up to Gone Girl-level brilliance.
A Simple Favor follows the dark relationship between mom opposites Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) and Emily (Blake Lively). Stephanie, the single mommy vlogger, is quickly seduced by Emily’s rich lifestyle – in all her martini drinking, ’30s Marlene Dietrich glamour. When Emily disappears, Stephanie attempts to get to the bottom of what happened to her best friend – and whether Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) had anything to do with it.
Michael Inside features many kinds of petty criminals. From his despondent father to his drug-dealing friends, the eponymous Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn) is surrounded by loss and violence, despite his own reluctance to become involved with the darker side of Dublin life. A haunting take on the responsibility of choice, Frank Berry’s second feature explores what happens when an average young man becomes a cog in a dangerous system – and the damning repercussions of coerced toxic masculinity.
The film begins by introducing its teenage protagonist as an everyday 18-year-old boy with everyday concerns; within the washed out grey-blue hues of Berry’s working-class Ireland, Michael plays football, attends college, and spends time with his girlfriend. His past may be spotted with mistakes and ill luck, but the film quickly establishes that Michael is not innately violent nor ill-meaning. When Michael is caught hiding drugs for a mate’s brother, however, he is sentenced to three months in prison, to the despair of his beloved grandfather, Francis (Lalor Roddy). What follows is a harsh and intimate look at the eradication of Michael’s teenage innocence, as prison life pushes him further and further towards a violence he had always sworn against.
Last year, there was one film that seemed to take up almost all of the space in my head. For all the wonderful movies that came in 2017, none occupied my thoughts or meant more to me than one in particular – this was Luca Guadagnino’s masterful Call Me By Your Name, a film that I have written hundreds of adoring words on over the past ten months, and which I hardly felt I could do justice to in my work. I am not here, however, to revisit Call Me By Your Name but, rather, to discuss the film that appears to have had the same effect on me this year. Though we may only be in September, I doubt that I will find another feature in the coming months that will impact me as much as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Just as Guadagnino’s film gripped every part of me last year, so has Akhavan’s – her depiction of a young, gay woman’s battle with both herself and the cruelty of her environment is as heart-wrenching as it is witty, and feels to me as beautiful and as vital to queer cinema as Call Me By Your Name.