Mid90s (2018)

mid90s

13 year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) has set his mind on skateboarding.

 

It would come as no surprise to me if there were many parts of Mid90s that are based off of events from Jonah Hill growing up. He was born in 1983, making him near the same age as the films protagonist, but it goes deeper than just that. The movie is not about a set of performances (all great), but on mood and setting. From super soakers to Walkman CD players (which I doubt I am the only one who does not miss) to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”, Mid90s is indeed its own form of period piece.

The protagonist is 13-year-old Stevie (newcomer Sunny Suljic). He lives at home with his mom (Katherine Waterston) and older brother Ian (Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges). We see Stevie in that stage of life where what is “cool” isn’t anymore, and new interests must be found. He decides on skateboarding, and discovers a group of (mostly) older kids to hang out with.

The leader is Ray (Na-kel Smith), also easily the best skater of the bunch (and one of the best in town). His best friend is F***S*** (Olan Prenatt), called so due to his tendency to say that phrase followed by “That is Crazy!”. The youngest in the group (closest to Stevie in age) is Ruben (Gio Galicia), who is no longer the runt of the litter. The final member is Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), so-called because it represents his IQ (or lack there of).

There are many things that work so well in Mid90s. Take for example the time it takes for Stevie to be excepted. There is clearly a care for the characters that Hill (who also wrote the film, his first ever directed) shows us in how he takes his time for them to develop. Stevie is clearly a nice kid, even trying to give his older brother a thoughtful birthday gift despite the fact that Ian lets out all his frustrations on his kid brother. Yet the movie is smart enough to know that Ian (who clearly has a thing for orange juice) does love his brother deep down, but has no one else to turn his anger on.

Parents, this far from a kids movie. There is clearly a lot of swearing, some violence and many thematic elements. There is also one of the most uncomfortable sexual content scenes I have witnessed in a long time, which involves Stevie at a party with an older girl. Nothing is really shown, but the atmosphere is very unsettling (and he describes what happens afterwards.) The R rating is more than justified.

Mid90s packs a lot into the short runtime of 85 minutes, but that does not at all take away from it. There are many clichés that could have occurred in the film, but are (for the most part) avoided. I urge my fellow millennials to search this film out like one may search out an old yearbook.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Eighth Grade (2018)

Eighth Grade

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) tries to power through her last week of middle school.

I think it was around February of 2002 when my 8th grade English Teacher Miss Pearson told us of our main end of the year project: writing our autobiography. It wasn’t until a few years ago I found a surviving copy of it, and just took a glance at it not long after seeing Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. It brought back memories for me, from being the lead in the musical to not knowing my crush would show up at my graduation party (we won’t go there). It is clear the world and technology have changed since my days in middle school, but the feelings, insecurities, thoughts, and emotions are all still shared, which is what makes the film great.

With one week left to go, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is determined to push through despite her introverted nature. Even though she insists she is a talkative person, she still wins the award from her peers for being the “Quietest”. Like all teenagers, she is glued to her phone, posting on instagram and snapchat (one of her peers mentions how Facebook is not a thing anymore). Kayla is vulnerable, but still manages courage to post a new video, go to a pool party she knows no one wanted her at, and even talk to her crush Aiden (Luke Prael). All this is credit to the young actress Fisher who is nothing short of remarkable.

Her one source of constant empathy that she (mostly) refuses is her dad Mark (Josh Hamilton). It is clear from the get go that, although she does love her dad, he is nothing short of a dork in her eyes. His heart is in the right place, but his brain needs some catching up (especially in the scene where Kayla is asked to hang out with some nice high school students). It isn’t until a later scene in the film where father and daughter have a truly touching, heart to heart talk.

My concern with the movie is the time frame. A lot happens to Kayla in the time span of just one week. While most of these things have happened to all of us at that age in one way or another, did it really happen in just seven days? Had the movie made the time longer (say a month, semester, or even the whole school year), my praise would be higher still.

Parents, this is another example of why I am not a fan of the MPAA. I am not doubting that the subject matter in the film is for mature audiences. After all, Kayla does look up a video on oral sex (nothing too graphic is shown) and there is one uncomfortable scene in the back seat of a car that thankfully does not go too far (a guy takes off his shirt). Still, kids are exposed to this type of talk (and, sadly, sometimes the situations) nearly every day at school (unless homeschooled). The film is R, but it is not anything that a High Schooler (or even a Middle Schooler) may not have witnessed before.

While there were no kids in the viewing of the film I attended, part of me wished there were. I would want to ask them how accurate of a film this was. My guess would be in the near perfect range.

 

Gucchi!

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

the-edge-of-seventeen

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is venting, to say the least…

A year or so ago, I remember reading that Academy Award Nominee Hailee Steinfeld (from the remake of True Grit) was not going to focus much on acting anymore and more on singing. While I have not heard any of her songs, I would hate to see her leave acting, because once you witness her in The Edge of Seventeen, you know you are watching a sure professional at the top of her game.

Steinfeld plays Nadine, a High School Junior who has very little in life that makes her happy. She feels overshadowed by her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), and does not get too well along with her single mom Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). Her one ray of hope is her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). They are peas in a pod, the type of friends who will hold back the other’s hair while they are throwing up in the toilet. This all changes when Krista hooks up with Darian.

The movie’s first time director, Kelly Fremon Craig, also wrote the screenplay. It is full of dialogue with wit and charm we all love to take out of a coming of age movie, including Nadine and her new friend Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Still, the best scenes are when Nadine has her conversations with her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (a sensational Woody Harrelson). Not many teachers will respond to a student’s over the top decision to commit suicide by reciting his own suicide note. Harrelson and Steinfeld are magical.

Parents, the movie is Rated R for good reason, but it does not mean High Schoolers should not see it (that is, the mature ones). There is a lot of swearing and sexual dialogue (mainly when Nadine is talking about her crush Nick, played by Alexander Calvert). There is also a scene in a car that does go on for a bit, but nothing is shown. Basically, I would say Juniors and up are fine.

The movie did take some turns I did not entirely appreciate (it reminded me a little of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a movie I was not a fan of). Still, in the coming of age movie genre, The Edge of Seventeen does place a staple along others. The late John Hughes would tip his hat to this film.

Overall: Four Stars ****

A Walk to Remember (2002)

a walk to remember

GASP! A teenage romantic flick with wit and chemistry!

I will take the stand of Mandy Moore’s character Jaime, and not care what you think of me. I came across this movie back in 8th grade, and despite a girl at my lunch table named Mary who ruined the ending (which I will not), I found myself to really like A Walk to Remember. Even over a decade later, it is still enchanting to me, and even gets the tears flowing.

For those who don’t know, it tells the story of Lance (Shane West), a high schooler who is put on many punishments for a prank gone wrong (being in a school play, tutoring, etc). At all these places he finds Jaime (Mandy Moore), who is there because that is the type of girl she is: the daughter of a Reverend (played by Peter Coyote), who does not mind wearing the same sweater every day.

That they eventually fall in love is obvious. It is the way they get there that is the core of this nearly forgotten film. Lance is a popular kid, but the shell around his heart eventually starts to wither away. Jaime is as kind as she seems, but won’t take disloyalty sitting down either. Moore and West do very nice work together.

Another thing I like about the film is, unlike many other movies based off of books by Nicholas Sparks, the characters don’t seem to find a need to sleep together. I doubt I am ruining anything, for the movie is rated PG (and should be fine for most kids middle school and up). After all, Casablanca did not have any scenes of sexuality, did it?

Recently, I saw the disappointing Me before you, in which the film ends with the characters not standing up for what they want to, and letting others make the choices for them. In A Walk to Remember, the characters seem real, and we feel for their triumphs and their failures. Those they can control, and those they cannot.

A Walk to Remember is one of the most underrated films I can think of.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

 

67% is where Snow Angels stands on Rotten Tomatoes. It made a little over 400,000 dollars GLOBALLY. I state these facts not to turn you away from the movie, but as proof that this may be one of the most underrated films I have ever seen. I named it my favorite movie of 2008, and I still stand by that.

It starts off at a Marching Band practice (I did Marching Band in High School, and this movie gets it right). We here two gun shots, and we know this movie is about a small town. The story is a slice of life. There are two main characters (the first is Arthur) that we see the lives of. The first is Annie (Kate Beckinsale, in what may be her best performance), a run down, divorced mom of one living with her own mother. She works at the local Chinese Restaurant with Arthur, (Michael Angarano), who Annie used to babysit. The dialogue here is so real it is almost scary (notice the scene at the begining where Annie is talking about a time she “married” Arthur to another kid when Arthur was young).

Both characters have flaws that are not like ones you will find in cliche movies, but that you would find in life. Annie is trying to recover from her divorce from Glenn (played outstandingly by Sam Rockwell), who is trying to recover from his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her co worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). Katt plays Nate as someone who is (like so many in real life) really REALLY bad at lying.

Arthur’s parents are on the eve of divorce, and then meets the new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby, also great here). There are seldom scenes in any movie I have ever seen that are truer than those with Arthur and Lila. Their chemistry together is truly magical, and is a testament to the young actors’ talents. It is one of the best examples of young love I have seen on celluloid (the scene where they say they like each other is sensational).

Things happen in “Snow Angels” that are funny, but also things that are very sad. I won’t ruin them for you. All I will say is that the director (David Gordon Green, who made this before he was making comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”) has made a film about normal people with normal struggles. There are so many examples of human behaviors that are hidden in site on the screen: a kid opening their eyes during a prayer, people saying “Cool Beans”, a school getting out early to help with a community issue, and so on.

Parents, the movie is rated R for Language and some sexual material. There are a lot of swears, but none that the normal High Schooler has not heard. The sexual material is there, but very brief. That all aside, this movie is a forgotten masterpiece, that deserves more attention.

Rating: Five Stars *****