Let’s play a game: would you rather be poked incessantly with sharp objects, or be forced to relive the eighth grade? You might need a minute to think it over. No one wants to be tortured, but eighth grade is a special kind of hell. It only lasts for one year; but what a socially awkward, puberty-riddled, emotionally agonizing year it is. Eighth grade blows, but now you can vicariously cringe your way through the gauntlet that is the last week of middle school for an earnest, 13-year old wallflower in director / writer Bo Burnham’s fantastic debut feature, Eighth Grade. He went back to eight grade, so you don’t have to.
The Coming-of-Age Story can fall into one of two categories: Sublime when done well, but Worse than Anything when done poorly. 20th Century Women, a new film directed by Mike Mills (Beginners) flips this genre sideways by looking at a pivotal year in the life of a fifteen year old boy through his relationships with three strong and finely nuanced women. Set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a dedicated single mom in her mid-50s, who is raising her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) during a time filled with cultural change and rebellion. Without a father figure in Jamie’s life, Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women to help her bring-up Jamie to be a good man. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is a free-spirited, 20-something punk artist and cancer survivor who is a boarder in their home, while 17-year-old Julie (Elle Fanning) is a troubled, promiscuous neighbor, who is also Jamie’s best friend. Billy Crudup also stars as William, a charming but aimless Handyman who also rents a room with the Fields home.
For anyone who lived through an important time of his or her life during 1979 (it was the year I graduated from high school, lost my virginity, and started college) 20th Century Women will feels like a unique, cliché-free set of life experiences that creates a pitch-perfect time capsule, dictated by a very specific time in pop culture history. Here are my Top Ten reasons why I love this film so much.
1. Even when she is horrible-piece-of-shit films like Greenburg, Greta Gerwig is the best thing in any movie she makes. I love everything about her character, Abbie, who reminded me of my former Punk Rock self, only way cooler.
2. The cinematography and art direction make each frame of the film look like a William Eggleston photograph.
3. Its depiction of the California Punk Rock scene in 1979 (which I was deeply immersed in) also manages to includes songs from the NYC’s No Wave scene and of course British First Wave Punk. The soundtrack reflects the film’s time period with music from artists who helped define the era: Devo, Suicide, The Germs, The Raincoats, Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie, Buzzcocks and Black Flag. Holy Cow! I felt like someone stole my vinyl collection from this era and put it in the film.
4. The soundtrack also features and original score by Roger Neill, which is utterly transportive.
5. I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of the Talking Heads’ music, but three of their songs – “Don’t Worry about the Government,” “Artists Only” and “The Big Country” — are far superior to any their popular hits, and arguably better than most other songs on the planet. Two of these three songs are included on the soundtrack. You will have to see the movie to find out which ones. BTW I predict that this film will provoke a surge in downloads of the Talking Heads’ catalog.
6. There’s a 3D acid flashback visual effect that the filmmakers use to elucidate the feeling of traveling in a fast car as being comparable to moving across time. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it is so trippy and profoundly emotionally effective.
7. 20th Century Women reminded me so much of three of my favorite films, ever: Dazed and Confused, Almost Famous, and American Beauty. If you dig those films, then you will just love this one.
8. An old high school friend of mine makes a cameo appearance in the film, sort of by accident. Tony Reflex from the seminal Orange County punk band, Adolescents, can be seen in a photograph used in a montage that depicts the rise of the punk rock movement in the late 1970s. That was fun.
9. No meaningless violence or senseless tragedy. I hope that isn’t a spoiler for anyone.
10. It is just the best movie, and you should go see it!
20th Century Women — which was just nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for this year’s Golden Globes, opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day, and Nationwide on January 20th, 2017. Music From The Motion Picture: 20th Century Women will be released digitally on December 16th, while a CD version will be released on January 13th 2017, followed by an LP version on February 10th, 2017.
One day in the life of a pair of Brooklyn teenagers moves beyond their typical routine to mark an emotional turning point in the lives of the two best friends in Naz & Maalik; an engaging new film from screenwriter/director Jay Dockendorf. The film’s dynamic script is based on a first-person account from one of Dockendorf’s former neighbors; a gay Muslim man who revealed his own experience as a teenager living in Brooklyn, at a time when the NYPD and FBI were spying on Muslims across the country. In Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant, a heavily African American neighborhood of Brooklyn) in particular, COPs would infiltrate mosques with undercover agents, coerce civilians arrested for petty crimes into becoming informants and conduct door-to-door interviews with Muslim citizens in front of their homes. The overbearing presence of the police created a charged environment, and a similar atmosphere of consistent tension infiltrates this bittersweet coming-of-age story that is expertly directed and acted.
Portrayed by Curtiss Cook Jr. (Maalik) and Kerwin Johnson Jr. (Naz), two young actors both making their feature film debut in these roles, Naz and Maalik spend their days together, earning cash by selling Lotto tickets, Saint cards, candy and scented oils on the streets of their neighborhood, as well as while riding the subway lines. Their faith is also made evident, as they make a stop at a local mosque during their day to pray with the faithful. Their bond of friendship is fast and tight, and, as we learn early on, their relationship has only just taken a romantic turn — something that Naz is way more comfortable with than Maalik. As devout Muslims, their love is forbidden, and it doesn’t help that Maalik’s bratty younger sister has already threatened to “out” the couple to their parents. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.
And then there’s the matter of that FBI agents that starts following the boys’ every move…
As their story unfolds naturally, Naz & Maalik takes on many hot-button issues — racial profiling, religion, sexuality — as the streets and subway trains of Brooklyn advance the backstory of just who these kids are without a need for superfluous narrative dialogue. In fact, to suggest that Brooklyn is also a main character in the film is not out of line.
Naz & Maalik isn’t so much a film about easy resolution as it is about tackling life’s curve balls and trying to stay true to yourself and your beliefs while also embracing the uncertainty of new love. Naz and Maalik are extremely likable characters and their story is both straightforward and nuanced, and highly engaging overall. The film’s original score, also written by Dockendorf is also fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about this film.
After Debuting at NYC’s Cinema Village, Naz & Maalik is currently available via Wolfe on DVD and Video On Demand.
People don’t normally equate childhood with a kind of battlefield, where the very process of growing up is an act of unqualified heroism, but then again not everyone has seen the Asia Argento film Misunderstood, where the lone soldier/hero is a nine-year-old girl named Aria. Set in Rome in the mid-1980s, Misunderstood is an exceptionally well-crafted (though not always easy to watch) film which focuses on a pivotal year in the life of Aria (played by Giulia Salerno), who has the misfortune to be the child of self-centered parents who are just on the verge of divorcing when our story begins. Continue reading Film Review: Asia Argento’s Misunderstood