“Eighth Grade,” “Juliet Naked,” “Searching,” “Mission Impossible 6,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “Blindspotting,” “Kin,” “Mile 22,” “3 Identical Strangers,” “Christopher Robin”

By | September 15, 2018

Some more new movies to talk about, most of which are actually good…

Eighth Grade…One of the absolute best films of 2018. Hilarious, moving, and so realistic (in a way few “slice of life” indies truly are) some scenes are hard to watch since it could easily be a documentary. Elsie Fisher deserves a Best Actress nomination and Josh Hamilton (as the good-natured, long-suffering single dad) will break your heart almost as much. From the tension of a pool party to a frightening car sexual encounter, this film will teleport you to the horrible middle school years like nothing I’ve ever seen, but don’t worry–you’ll actually enjoy going there this time. Grade: A

Juliet Naked…There’s been so much talk about “the return of the romantic comedy” in lesser films like “Set It Up” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” that you might’ve missed this actual gem. The cast is an embarassment of riches featuring Chris O’Dowd, Rose Bryne, and the always-underrated Ethan Hawke. Just a nice, low-key wind up that digs deep into real issues involving the hopes and dreams of its aging characters. Grade: A-

Searching…A riveting jaw-dropper of a film that shows you don’t have to spend a lot (or really any money) to make something truly memorable. John Cho continues his hot streak as the frazzled father of a missing girl, and the film’s execution–all shot through smartphones and computer screens–never becomes a distraction, and nicely adds to the tension. Even if the ending may be a little unrealistic, this is still a movie you don’t want to miss. Grade: A-

Blindspotting…I wanted to like this movie more than I did, but this Daveed Diggs/Rafael Casal drama just isn’t interesting enough to ever fully grip you. And although the blending of genres–it’s part crime thriller, part buddy comedy, part race drama, and even part musical–should usually be celebrated to create something unique, the parts don’t fully gel here. [For instance, a scene where Casal tries to sell equipment in a hair salon to Tisha Campbell-Martin is so goofily over-the-top it belongs more in a “Barbershop” movie than anything else in this movie.] Grade: C+ For a much better experimental film set in Oakland, check out…

Sorry to Bother You…Another one of the year’s very best, writer-director Boots Riley bursts onto the scene with something he wanted to say, and absolutely succeeds. Over a month after I watched this film, I’m still marveling at little touches (like having a nicer lamp or TV hatch out of older models to showcase the main character moving up in the world) of surrealism–always the hardest thing for most movies to pull off–that actually work. This is a scathing satire of not just race, but class, that properly calls out the nightmarish “sharing economy” we find ourselves in. Armie Hammer is well-cast as a tech villain who has so thoroughly absorbed PR speak, even things he says privately sound like bullshit. And Tessa Thompson continues her hot streak in a performance that warrants serious Best Supporting Actress consideration. Grade: A

Kin…An example of an indie drama that people thought was just a little too cookie-cutter, so they threw in unnecessary sci-fi elements. There’s a plot about people being on the run (eventually accompanied by Zoe Kravitz playing–get this–a stripper in rural Iowa), but the film layers in some non-sense about an alien ray gun, a headless former owner of that gun, and some super futuristic soldiers sent to find it. Say what now? All of it is pretty ho-hum except for James Franco’s villain. Grade: C

Three Identical Strangers…A documentary about three triplets who were all adopted by different families and had no idea the others existed until they were adults. Some stories are stranger than fiction, and you eventually find out why the brothers were split up–to devastating results. Grade: B

Christopher Robin…A nice, slow softball of a movie that had the perfect release date (early August) to accompany its “End of Summer” feel. It’s essentially about a workaholic, adult Christopher Robin (played by–who else?–Ewan McGregor) who has to reconnect with long-estranged friend Winnie the Pooh in order to get back in touch with what makes life worth living. A great message and some fine voice work, and expect pessismistic donkey Eeyore to get most of the laughs even as Pooh delivers the heart. Grade: B+

Mile 22…Whereas “Mission Impossible 6” does everything right, you can look to this Mark Wahlberg-groaner to see what not to do. It’s one of his most annoying performances, and much of the film doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. Although you get the sense there’s a better film somewhere right beneath the surface, a feeling that’s more frustrating than reassuring. Grade: C

Mission Impossible 6: Fall-Out…I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this movie since I truly believe Christopher McQuarrie wrote and directed the worst installment in the series with “MI5–Rogue Nation,” and he’s now the first director to return, as well as the large bulk of that film’s cast. But whatever didn’t work last time out is gone now, as Ethan Hunt and Co. break out with easily the best action movie in years (excluding “John Wick 2,” I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed one so thoroughly). We’re treated to sky dives, shoot outs, double crosses, triple crosses, motorcycle chases, car chases, foot chases, and even helicopter chases, the closing sequence is something I’ve snuck into watch several times after lesser movies have finished playing. It’s also nice to see Henry Cavill indulge in his dark side as a cracked-mirror version of Cruise’s goody-two-shoes Hunt. Even if the film may be a Scientology advertisement (Cruise is the world’s most heroic spy and only he can save the world), I’d happily sign up if it meant more great films. Grade: A-

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