Watch the whole thing HERE!
THE FIRST FIVE:
A STAR IS BORN: Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a rock star with magnetism to spare but carrying around a guitar case overflowing with personal problems. Drug addicted and alcoholic, he’s a troubled guy who falls for Ally (Lady Gaga) after seeing her perform a tour de force version of “La Vie En Rose“ in a bar. It’s love at first sight. He’s attracted to her talent and charisma; she is wary but interested. Soon they become involved, personally and professionally. As their romance blossoms her star rises meteorically as his fades slowly into the sunset. It’s a familiar story given oxygen by rock solid direction, music with lyrics that forwards the story and two very good, authentic performances. “A Star is Born” could have been product, a glitzy film with a heartthrob and a pop star in the leads but instead resonates with real feelings and heartfelt emotion.
A QUIET PLACE: Real life couple John Krasinski (who also wrote, produced and directed) and Emily Blunt are Lee and Evelyn, a mother and father fighting for the survival of their kids Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) in a world where making a sound, any sound, can be deadly. Deadly blind aliens who hunt their prey through sound have invaded the world turning noisy people into human cold cuts. The family lives in silence, using sign language and eating off leaves to avoid the clinking of cutlery on china but what happens when a newborn baby cries? Can life go on? The silence of the first half of “A Quiet Place” is deafening. There is no spoken dialogue for forty minutes, just dead air. In the way that many filmmakers use bombast to grab your attention Krasinski uses the absence of sound to focus the audience on the situation. Very little information is passed along. We don’t know where the aliens came from, why they’re terrorizing earth or how many there are. Ditto the Abbotts. We know nothing about them. The connection the family feels is transmitted through looks and actions, not words. This isn’t a story where character development is important, it’s a tale of survival pure and simple. “A Quiet Place” is a nervy little film. Other filmmakers might have tried to find a way to wedge in more dialogue or spell things out more clearly but the beauty of Krasinski’s approach is its simplicity. Uncluttered and low key, it’s a unique and unsettling horror film.
BLACKKKLANSMAN: When we first meet Stallworth (John David Washington) it’s the mid-1970s and he is an ambitious rookie cop who wants out of the records room and into the action. The overwhelmingly white Colorado Springs police department doesn’t quite know what to do with him until Civil Rights organizer Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) is booked to speak in town. “We don’t want this Carmichael getting into the minds of the young people of Colorado Springs,” he’s told. Sent undercover to the meeting wearing a wire, he meets local college activist Patrice (Laura Harrier). She calls the police “pigs” but awakens Ron’s dormant activism with her passion. Back at his desk a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan. On an impulse he dials the number, changes his voice and gets a meeting with a local, high-level Klansman. Now what to do? Stallworth continues wooing the Klan on the phone, spouting racist gobbledegook, while his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) plays the part in person. “BlacKkKlansman” is set forty plus years ago and comes complete with flared pants, jive talk and other indicators of the time but feels timely and alive. This is not a period piece. It’s a slice of Stallworth’s life that bristles with Lee’s anger, social commentary and humour. Parallels to today’s news are woven throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes with the delicacy of a slap to the face. For instance, midway through Duke says he’s working, “to get America back on track, to give America its greatness again.” It’s a barbed satire with its feet firmly rooted in the realities of American life.
BLACK PANTHER: The film starts with a quick origin story, detailing the introduction of vibranium to the small (fictional) African nation of Wakanda. This mysterious metal is a wonder. Near indestructible, it can absorb kinetic energy and has imbued a Wakandan flower called the Heart-Shaped Herb with a supercharge that gives superpowers when ingested. Cut to modern day. After his father’s death T’Challa (Boseman) is crowned King but just as he is ordained a rare Wakandan artefact made of vibranium is lifted from a London museum by two very bad men, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). To retrieve the precious metal T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, along with spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira), travel to Korea where the artefact is about to be sold to CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). A wild battle ensues to a power struggle that may not only compromise the throne of Wakanda but also threaten the safety of the world. “Black Panther” takes place in a couple of time frames—NO SPOILERS HERE!—but at its heart it is a timely story about social responsibility—a wealthy nation state confronting its role in the world—that pulsates with smart commentary about race and revolution. “Black Panther” pushes the Marvel Universe past the typical Avengers style bombast fests like “Age of Ultron.” This is a breath of fresh air, a warm breeze along the lines of “Ant-Man” or “Doctor Strange,” films that transcend the superhero genre, pushing the form into new, unexplored territory. It may be a tad too long and slightly uneven in it’s first hour but with its strong female characters—who work together rather than as opponents—an Afrocentric story and social commentary it feels like the perfect movie for right now.
EIGHTH GRADE: Elsie Fisher is Kayla, a newly minted teen struggling through the last week of grade eight. “The hard part of being yourself is that it’s not easy,” the thirteen-year-old says in one of the many inspirational YouTube videos she posts to the web in a search for friends, validation and most of all, likes. Trouble is, she’s no JennaMarbles. Despite being glued to her phone and coining a perky catchphrase—“Gucci!”—she has no social media presence to speak of. “The topic of today’s video is putting yourself out there,” she says, “but where is there?” It’s not much better in IRL. Ignored by schoolmates, she’s only invited to the popular girl Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) pool party because her mom (Missy Yager) has a crush on Kayla’s father Mark (Josh Hamilton). Speaking of her long-suffering dad, he spends his time trying to make contact only to be met with monosyllabic grunts as he desperately tries to distract her from her ever-present phone. “Eighth Grade” is an unvarnished, pimples and all, look at adolescence and the anxiety that comes with it. Kayla may not always be able to exactly articulate the way she’s feeling but the movie has no such problem. It’s a study in her innocence and awkwardness that uses carefully selected moments to highlight Kayla’s mindset.