Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Eighth Grade

How did we miss a movie that was included in The Week magazine’s list of the top ten of 2018? Perhaps MoviePass never included it in their own list of allowable films at our local theater. That particular program was one of our favorites for part of the year, until it became utterly useless and we left it behind. And that’s probably good, since we were substituting movie theater snacks for our dinner an unhealthy number of times.
But I digress. Eighth Grade was indeed a movie worth seeing, and one to recommend, with one caveat: if you hated the year in school chronicled in this film as much as I did, you’ll be curled up in a fetal position by the time the movie reaches its mid point. Writer and director Bo Burnham masterfully portrays that awkward time in our development from the perspective of lead actress Elsie Fisher’s wonderful portrayal of Kayla Day, a pimply faced middle-schooler who broadcasts her thoughts and advice on YouTube to an audience of perhaps zero to one.
In 2006 Bo Burnham himself burst onto laptop screens as a real life YouTube sensation, playing piano and singing funny original songs about his own insecurities. Now only age 27, he has since attracted over 250 million views and has achieved award-worthy recognition for his first feature film.
The role of social media in this film, and in our lives, cannot be overstated. Burnham knows it and nails it. Josh Hamilton, playing Mark Day, struggles to connect with tuned-out Kayla at the dinner table. He is able to gain only one-word responses from his social media distracted daughter, who is horrified at the idea of having a conversation with her father. He digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole by insisting that she unplug just long enough to talk at length about one thing – just one thing. Later he seals his fate by secretly following her on a trip to the mall where she hangs out with new friends for the first time.
Kayla’s transformation from sixth grader to high-schooler by way of middle school becomes a tangible and painful trip down memory lane when the graduating class is presented with individual time capsules created two years earlier. The brightly decorated shoebox is filled with memorabilia and a video message-in-a-bottle carried from the past by a SpongeBob thumb drive. A surreal video from sixth grade Kayla asks future Kayla, “Do you have a boyfriend? Are you an amazing person?” Confronting her former self results in a scene that I won’t entirely divulge here. It is a heartwarming father/daughter exchange over a backyard bonfire in which Dad finally gets it right.
There are pivotal moments in life, if you’re a self-aware deeper thinker, not unlike the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. I recall a time in fifth grade when some of my friends first became interested in girls. Suddenly, it seemed as if they got on a bus that several of us hadn’t even seen coming. It was the day I asked my friend Bill, “Hey, you wanna play baseball” and was met with, “No, I’m hanging out with Kelly, Barry and Andrea today.” Not everyone morphs at the same time or in the same way. Bill was also the first person I knew to get a divorce, well before our ten-year high school reunion. The rest of us got on a bus too. Just not that first one.
Along Kayla’s journey are Aiden, played by Luke Prael. He’s the sleepy-eyed cool kid who strolls through scenes to a music track of Kayla’s own imagining. Her crush leads her to boast to him about her library of nude selfies. That gets his attention, and he then asks if she does another very specific attention getting thing. She runs home to do some research and is essentially grossed out by what she finds on Google. 
The transition to high school comes complete with a shadow program. Enter Olivia (Emily Robinson), a wonderfully positive role model who includes Kayla in her own group of friends, but inadvertently sets in motion a situation that potentially heads toward date rape. This is a painful scene that leaves the viewer wondering just what kind of turn this movie is going to take.
Along comes Gabe (Jake Ryan), an awkward chance encounter at a pool party scene slightly reminiscent of The Graduate, whose snorkel and diving mask certify his membership in nerd culture. He is more at Kayla’s level, and eventually has her over for a dinner of chicken nuggets and french fries. He adorably presents Kayla with a row of every flavor of dipping sauce in a neatly arranged line of brightly colored containers. His heart is right where it belongs at this critical time in Kayla’s evolution.
I’ve frequently thought about going back to school. I think second or third grade would be about right. It definitely wouldn’t be eighth grade. But if you’d like to immerse yourself for ninety minutes in that particular crucible of terror where budding adolescents are locked away for two years for lack of a better institution, you’ll thoroughly enjoy being there. It's the womb where mean girls are born, hormones begin to boil over and childhood ends. Just be glad when you move on to high school. Of course, that’s an entirely more horrifying story. Perhaps Burnham’s next project? By all means, see Eighth Grade. But don’t watch it with your own eighth grader. They’ll run screaming.
Eighth Grade (2018) runs one hour, 33 minutes and is rated R.
Should you see this movie?

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: On The Basis of Sex

As prominently displayed on screen during a recent viewing of On The Basis of Sex, the year is 1956 when Ruth Ginsberg enters Harvard law school, one of nine women allowed to do so in a class of 500 men. And “allowed” pretty much captures the sentiment of the men in charge in that dark time. It was also the year I turned two, so I find it amazing that I grew up completely immersed in a culture of unenlightened people and archaic laws. I thought the 1960s were pretty cool. Guess not.
Flash forward to 1970, and several other dates along the way. I have a problem with stop action cinematic history, especially when filmmakers can only explain a timeline with titles on screen. It results in a film that lacks nuance, desperately seeking anecdotal highlights in a person’s life to develop a story. But this is quite a story.
Although women won the right to vote in 1920, the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1971 was never ratified by enough states to become a constitutional amendment. In the early 1970s hundreds of antiquated laws remained on the books, limiting jobs for fear of women leaving their “intended role” inside the home. Queue Ginsberg, who buys into the notion that, concerning the law, “We must not be guided by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era.” She decides to tackle a key case that establishes precedent for future cases, literally changing history in the process.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is all the rage right now. RBG, as she is known, is hip, fierce, smart, tenacious and really, really old. She’s a living legend who vows to keep on living and serving on the Supreme Court as long as a Republican president is in power. Her seat on the court is priceless. Played in the film by a very youthful Felicity Jones, age 35, I had trouble reconciling the RBG we see on the news with the actress playing a young RBG, especially during love scenes. I had to force myself not to see the image above on the right and assume that Ruth was once young and Felicity-like. And in fact, she was. Roll tape.
Married to fellow law student Martin Ginsberg, played by Armie Hammer, who could be a stand-in for Captain America, the power couple takes on Harvard, even when Marty is so ill that Ruth sits in on his classes as well as her own, typing his papers and conveying lecture material while he rests on the couch. Maybe SHE is Captain America!
One unacknowledged character in this film is the typewriter. We see it evolve from a fully manual Smith-Corona to an IBM correcting Selectric, all in the capable hands of women, because that’s what women were allowed to do. Somewhere along the line there must have been a male secretary. I was one, but not until 1986. In fact, I related to those who pounded out legal briefs, since I typed some of my best friend’s papers while he worked in the Appeals Division of the Cook County States Attorney’s office. They are cumbersome typing jobs.
Justin Theroux plays Mel Wulf, an over-acting (or maybe just over-scripted) aggressive ACLU legal director who teams up with Ginsberg at her request to take on a seemingly unwinnable case. Perhaps he was this animated in real life, but he seemed exaggerated and kind of corny.
Sam Waterston is in his usual form as Erwin Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School who later became Solicitor General of the United States, an intense Washington-type character he was born to play. He’s good in just about any role.
Kathy Bates plays the quirky feminist and civil rights attorney, Dorothy Kenyon, who once lost a key case, and is now somewhat reclusive and combative. She wants nothing to do with Ginsberg, who idolizes her, but reluctantly comes around when she needs a favor from Wulf.
Jones is not entirely convincing as the brilliant and aggressive young Ruth Bader Ginsberg and seemed to have trouble consistently emulating her New York accent, if any. There it is. Oh, now it’s gone. Was I hearing things? She is also frequently seen rapidly walking through crowds, a counterpoint to her diminutive stature (she’s short), having “Aha” moments that light up her face and cause her to change direction. Oh boy, something cool is about to happen!
The Ginsberg character in this film was seemingly caught between the influence of a demanding mother, who wanted her to change the world, and her budding feminist daughter, who asks, “Why change the world, if not for me?”
On The Basis of Sex (or should we say gender, as one sensitive typist suggests) is recommended if you think you’ll enjoy a bio-drama about lawyers. They throw around enough legal jargon to engender authenticity, almost to the point at which you’ve had enough and would rather they just tell the story. And I think they fall short of completing the story, since the film ends long before Ginsberg’s eventual appointment as the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. For that perhaps you need to watch CNN’s movie entitled simply RBG.
On The Basis of Sex (2018) runs 2 hours and is rated PG-13

Should you see this movie?

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

This is one of those films with a difficult title to remember. Even the ticket taker at Regal stumbled over it as he confirmed our purchase....