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.
I’ll watch Oscar Isaac in anything. Despite his poor choice of roles in the last few years (excluding some stellar Alex Garland collaborations), he genuinely remains the best part of any hot mess he takes part in. Knowing that such a powerful on-screen presence hasn’t been landing the leading roles he deserves to have, it was really exciting to see Isaac get behind the camera and do some production work on his latest film, Operation Finale. To see an artist I admire take action and create roles for himself is admirable to me, so it’s all the more disappointing to tell you that once again the pieces just didn’t fall into place. Operation Finale boasts two powerhouses in Isaac and Kingsley and possesses a poignant tale at its core, but the direction by Chris Weitz feels all too pedestrian and at times, even too incompetent to be substantial.
Set fifteen years after WWII, this period drama follows the true story of Peter Malkin and his Israeli crew who traveled to Argentina to find and extract Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer responsible for the transportation of millions of Jewish people to concentration camps. Legally forced to get a signature out of Eichmann in order to transport him out of Argentina to Israel, Malkin must bargain with Eichmann to bring him to trial. It’s an important story about civility, wickedness, suffering, and urgency that Operation Finale presents in an unimaginative fashion – all while stumbling on its message along the way.
Basically, it awoke a burning need inside me. I love film dads. You hopefully love film dads as well. So, why not use my position as a writer on a well-respected film site to rank film dads and distract myself from the existential despair around me? For the sake of brevity (and so I’m not just regurgitating the beautiful tweet above), I chose to focus on 2018 film dads in a specific and simple list, ranked on a lot of different factors. I limited it down to one dad per movie, from movies I have seen and at least superficially enjoyed. There also may be spoilers for any film included on the list, so beware!
Well, girls, gays, and all other dad loving individuals – let’s get to it!
At a superficial, base-level understanding of Crazy Rich Asians, the film might come across as nothing new. It’s a modern take on Pride and Prejudice,a quirky romantic comedy about a man and a woman from two different worlds coming together – but where the magic resides is in its vast love and dedication to the celebration of contemporary Asian culture, and the tremendous amount of care from the cast and crew of this film to make it as much of a classic Hollywood spectacle as possible. There is so much glitz, glamour, Chinese covers of Coldplay and genuine pride radiating off of this flick that its fantastical charm is absolutely irresistible. In the age of whitewashing and orientalism in Hollywood (COUGH Doctor Strange COUGH Ghost in the Shell COUGH), finally getting a mainstream film to represent my culture behind and in front of the camera feels revolutionary in itself.
Based off of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novels, Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel Chu, a professor who unknowingly happens to be dating Nick Young – who comes from one of the richest families in all of Singapore. They go on a summer trip together to a family friend’s wedding, and antics ensue as word of mouth quickly spreads about their relationship through an impressive text and social media sequence. Torn between her American roots and trying her best to impress Nick’s cold and disapproving mother, Rachel learns the value of her own modern values and self-worth.
There’s a moment in Christopher Robin in which the older-but-definitely-not-wiser titular character and his best furry friend, Winnie the Pooh step into a dreary, muted, and unfamiliar version of the Hundred Acre Wood in search of their lost friends. Seeing Christopher Robin revisit a space he once inhabited, with his pure innocence and imagination- in a forgotten, disheveled state, was emotionally resonant. The once playful child, now cynical businessman, Robin suggests to Pooh to begin searching for his friends in the most efficient way possible by walking straight forward.
If you know Pooh, you’ll know this silly old bear is the opposite of efficient. While Robin’s approach takes him to point A and point B with little adventure, Pooh prefers to improvise, detour, and see where it takes him. Often, he finds success in unusual places. Marc Foster’s direction has great intentions, but its overall execution is sadly comparable to Robin’s method of exploration. This is where the film falls short. Christopher Robin is a sweet and sometimes interesting journey, but it squanders its ideas and chooses to be passable.
For the record, I am behind a lot of the creative conceptual choices here. I loved the idea of an older Robin having to go on a metaphorical reclamation of his own youth, the muted color palette, the stuffed animal translations of these characters, and for the first two-thirds of the film, I was invested in where it was going. The overall high points of the film begin (and end) with the Hundred Acre Wood, as adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) trudges down the foggy forest, getting lost in his own innocence to find Pooh’s friends. The more in touch Robin becomes with his younger self, the more awake the Wood becomes, it’s vibrant and resonant visual storytelling.
Happy mid-Summer! To celebrate the season of melted popsicles and colored beach umbrellas, we created a video focusing on our favorite Summer-set films and scenes! Put on your flip-flops, lay your beach towel down and enjoy the montage set to ‘Down the Line’ by the Beach Fossils.
If you’re looking to broaden your taste and try out something unconventional during this fine Criterion month, I’ve got you covered. This entry of the Criterion canon may be a newer addition, but it’s an older, influential work and a unique piece to the library of legacy. The Color of Pomegranates (directed by Sergei Parajanov) is a 1969 film dedicated to the life of the famous poet Sayat Nova, but it’s not your traditional biographical picture. Instead of an informative narrative following a cohesive journey recounting the events of Nova’s life, Parajanov prefers to capture the essence of his experiences through powerful, loosely connected audiovisuals. Influenced by the works of Tarkovsky, Parajanov seeks to use a surrealistic style to preserve the legacy of Nova and serve as a snapshot of Armenian culture.