Tag Archive | Movie Poster

Movie Review: Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade

Eight Grade Movie Poster
Photo By Gail

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.

Best known for his hilarious Netflix stand-up comedy specials, Bo Burnham has admitted to this much: that he retired from doing stand-up due to incapacitating stage fright, and that he’s often been referred to as “the comedian for 13 year old girls.” So it’s not so mysterious that this 27-year old man could write a film that completely nails a coming-of-age scenario of an adolescent girl. Because of course he did. Eighth Grade’s sympathetic protagonist is Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher in a career-launching role), who suffers from a merciless case of acne and a crippling shyness that she attempts to combat with a fake-it-til-you-make-it approach to social media-assisted survival. While she has no siblings, and doesn’t appear to have a close circle of friends, Kayla is absolutely dedicated to the “fans” of her YouTube channel, on which she posts frenetic self-help videos, giving advice on how to “just be yourself” and “put yourself out there.” Obviously, she is her own target audience.

There is no huge dramatic arc in Eighth Grade, but rather the film is peppered with many significant moments of the ‘real life drama’ that is puberty, as Kayla and her classmates struggle to define themselves as soon-to-be-high-schoolers when there is so much they feel totally clueless about. This theme of transition and initiation reminded me very much of another film that is set during the final day of school, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), which is one of the best movies about authentic teenage behavior ever put to film. If that sounds like high praise, it is.

Eighth Grade Kayla and Dad
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) and her Dad (Josh Hamilton) in a Scene from Eighth Grade

Kayla is being raised by her single dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton in a thoroughly charming performance) who loves her unconditionally enough to disregard her constantly rebuffing his every attempt at meaningful father-daughter conversation, giving her the space and encouragement she needs to figure stuff out on her own. Mark is hilarious as he tries to not ’embarrass’ Kayla merely by existing. It’s easy to imagine that he was once in her shoes: the geeky kid who grew up to be a pretty cool dad. It takes a while for Kayla to figure this out, letting their relationship unfold with great sweetness, and one excruciatingly comedic moment when he walks in on her practicing fellatio on a banana, a fruit he knows she absolutely hates.

Eighth Grade Kayla Pool

The scenes in which Fisher’s performance inarguably earns the label ‘brave’ are those that take place during a coed swim party hosted by the most popular girl in Kayla’s class, Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) – a one-dimensional “mean girl” caricature who has no issue telling Kayla to her face that she’s only being invited because Kennedy’s mother insisted. I had to watch through my fingers as I recognized the horrifying self-consciousness of being seen by peers in a bathing suit. Kayla wastes no time plunging herself to the bottom of the swimming pool, where she can most easily disappear. When she panics and retreats into the house to play games on her phone, she is interrupted by Aiden (Luke Prael) the cute, popular boy she’s desperately crushing on, who has come to retrieve his own charging phone. Kayla becomes so flustered at being in unexpected close proximity to her dream beau, the most impressive thing she can manage to nervously stammer is, “Sometimes, I charge my phone, too.” Oh my god, I am Kayla.

Over the course of the film, Kayla cracks her shell a bit, building the confidence to take the mic at a Karaoke party, make friends with a cool high school student, tell off the mean girl, and go on a hilarious first date with an adoring nerd-boy classmate Gabe (Jake Ryan) who first flirted with her at the pool party by challenging her to see who could hold their breath the longest underwater. Clearly, they are perfect for each other. Through a brilliant combination of sensitive direction, spot on casting, and authentically awkward dialogue that resonates so deeply, you’ll swear you’re watching a documentary, Eighth Grade is ridiculously successful and a remarkable achievement, especially for a first-time director. The parts that make us the most uncomfortable are also the most hilarious, because we all lived through it. And life is funny.

Except for one tense scene in the back seat of a car — which you will see coming a mile away — Eight Grade never goes Welcome to the Dollhouse-level dark. This film has more in common thematically with sleeper hits like Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and Napoleon Dynamite (2004), in that the protagonist is encouraged to embrace and celebrate her inner geek. Kayla is already the “Coolest Girl in the World.” She just had to figure that out for herself.

Eighth Grade opens in Los Angeles and New York (where it’s playing at the Angelika Film Center on Houston and Mercer) on July 13th, 2018, with Nationwide distribution to follow.

Grade: A

Watch the Trailer Below!

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Recommended Viewing: The Endless

The Endless Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

If you’ve seen the two previous feature films by writer/director team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, then you understand that these guys enjoy being meta. Both their 2013 breakout sci-fi flick, Resolution, and 2014’s body horror/romance, Spring include references to a common character (“Shitty Carl”) who is never seen onscreen, and the duo even appear together in one scene in Resolution. Impressively, their new film, The Endless, takes meta to a delightfully mind-bending level.  Not only do audiences finally get to meet Shitty Carl, but the two main characters (and one minor character) from Resolution appear in a few pivotal scenes of The Endless, reprising their roles from the previous film. Stephen King does this type of cross-referential thing in his novels all the time as a way to expand and validate his fictional worlds, and here the device works well to let The Endless serve as both a possible sequel to Resolution, while also letting it stand alone as a solid, separate story that contains a few winks and nods for hardcore fans. You don’t need to see one to ‘get’ the other, and to infer that this reveal is a ‘spoiler’ would be like saying that seeing Rogue One spoils the plot of Star Wars.

The Endless stars Benson and Moorhead as brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, roommates who own and operate a small housecleaning business, but struggle to pay the bills. Although they appear to be about the same age, it is inferred that Justin is the elder sibling by, say, ten years. One afternoon, Aaron receives a battered package in the mail, containing a video tape on a format that is long obsolete. After hitting up a couple of yard sales, he finds a device that will play the tape, which shows footage of a young woman who speaks to the camera about an unspecified, upcoming  event. Aaron recognizes her as Anna (Callie Hernanadez), whom he knows from a cult-like commune that took-in the brothers after their parents died in a car accident. It’s unclear how long they lived at the commune, but suggested that ten years have passed since they left – or was it ‘escaped’?

Aaron shares the tape with Justin, insisting that the two make a return visit to the commune so that he can gain some type of closure, and also make sure that Anna and the other friends they left behind are all okay. Justin has zero desire to go back, but indulges his younger brother on the condition that the trip be limited to just one day. Right.

Justin and Aaron in Boat
There Might Be Something in the Lake Other Than Fish

Though it’s not immediately obvious that the group worships or follows the teachings of any particular figurehead, guru or phenomena, things get weird right away. First off, Justin quickly observes that residents of the commune appear to not have aged a day in the ten years since the brothers left. Aaron sees flocks of birds flying in odd, circular patterns, and surprise photographs and other recorded media containing images of the two just kind of ‘show up’ randomly. And, oh yeah, isn’t that a second moon up in the sky? What’s that about? And who, or what, is on the other end of the rope in that midnight Tug-of-War ritual?

Three Moons
Make that Three Moons

The Endless is one of those films that’s comprised of multi-layered mysteries and plot twists that you won’t see coming no matter how much you think you know what is going on. The subtle horror, slowly-mounting suspense and ever increasing sense of dread will have you on the edge your seat, and it’s really best to go into the theater knowing as little about what happens as possible. While it could be described as Cabin in The Woods meets Primer, The Endless will also appeal to those intrigued by the exploration of cults and cult-mentality, as addressed in the Netlfix documentary series, Wild Wild Country. It is certainly a film that invites multiple viewings, and it will leave you with lots to discuss with fellow viewers long after leaving the theater.

The Worley Gig Gives The Endless 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars!

The Endless Hits Theaters on Friday April 6th, 2018. Find a Showing Near You at This Link!

Justin and Aaron

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Direct and Star in The Endless.

Movie Review: I, Tonya

Official I Tonya Poster
All Images Courtesy of Cinetic Media PR

“America, they want someone to love; but they want someone to hate, too.” These words, concisely distilling the public’s obsession with celebrity scandal, are spoken by Tonya Harding, former Olympic figure skater and one-time champion competitor, in director Craig Gillespie’s outstanding new biopic, I, Tonya. For those who are late to the game; back in 1994, Harding found herself at the center of one of the most sensational scandals in sports history after being linked to a physical attack on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In the seemingly endless Kefmedia satellite tours circus that surrounded ‘the incident’ (as it is referred to in the film) and its far-reaching consequences, Tonya Harding became a walking punch line and arguably the most-hated woman in America. In the aftermath, she was sentenced by the court to probation, community service, ordered to pay a large fine, and forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association, effectively ending her career. Twenty three years later, I, Tonya gives Harding a compelling confessional with which to tell the whole sordid story, and it is a tale based on true events that’s as crazy as any absurdist, darkly comic fiction you could make up.

I Tonya Jeff and Tonya Young
Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) with Tonya as a Newly-Dating Couple.

With a tight script based on dialogue from recent interviews by the director with both Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, plus archived interviews, You Tube videos and meticulous research, I, Tonya traces Harding’s life and career from age 4 to 44.  Growing up in a broken home (her mother’s fifth child from her fourth marriage) Harding’s focused passion for skating took her out of her reality of incessant beratement by her stage-mother-from-hell, LaVona Golden (an astounding performance by Allison Janney) and transformed her into a disciplined athlete who didn’t take any shit from anybody. Performing in homemade costumes because she couldn’t afford to buy them, and constantly standing up for her right to compete and be judged on her ability despite not fitting the mold of a squeaky clean all-American girl, it’s exhilarating to watch her come up in the sport (Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition) while gaining a voyeuristic perspective on the circumstances that shaped her complicated character.

Do you need services for translators and interpreters? Look for Chinese NAATI translator owned by the Federal and state governments and ensures that Australia has a high-standard of language testing for translators and interpreters in an assortment of languages.

I Tonya Allison Janney
Allison Janney Steals Every Scene She’s in as Tonya’a Mother, LaVonna Golden

As Harding hones her craft and becomes an increasingly successful, award-winning competitor, her already volatile relationship with Gilooly becomes even more physically abusive, and the film’s depiction of domestic violence is very realistic, harrowing and difficult to watch. By the time Gilooly and his half-witted friend Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser) begin brainstorming a plan that will ‘intimidate’ Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan, who is perceived as Harding’s stiffest competition for Olympic Gold, it is already too late to stop the downward spiral.

I Tonya Cast at Rink
Jeff, Tonya and her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) first hear of the attack on Kerrigan

Despite the violence and serious subject matter, I Tonya is a wildly enjoyable ride, filled with many hilarious moments thanks to the absurdist situations and excellent comic timing from the top-shelf group of actors cast in this strange-but-true story. A well-curated film soundtrack can always advance the action and evoke keen emotions in ways that dialogue alone cannot, so it’s worth noting that, along with a terrific original score by Peter Nashel, I, Tonya makes brilliant use of popular radio hits of the era such as Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman,” Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” sound tracking the film’s closing credits as they scroll over archival footage of  Tonya Harding skating in competition, which is unexpectedly quite moving.

Expect I, Tonya to garner a considerable number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Robbie and Best Supporting Actress for Janney (at the very least), and Best Director.

Opening Nationally on Friday December 8th, 2017, The Worley Gig Gives I, Tonya Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:

Movie Review: Dan Stevens Stars in The Ticket

The Ticket Movie Poster

If you’re a fan of Dan Stevens from his tenure on the period drama series, Downton Abbey, not to mention (but you can see I am about to) his current roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the hit TV series Legion, you can get another fix of the wildly popular British actor in a new independent film, The Ticket. As the first American film directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late), The Ticket offers an intimate, engaging  and well-acted take on a familiar cautionary tale. James (Stevens) has been blind since childhood due to an inoperable pituitary tumor pressing on his optic nerve. Despite his blindness, he appears to enjoy a good life; being happily married to Sam (Malin Ackerman) and father to a 13 year-old son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James also works at a Real Estate firm making cold sales calls with a group of other blind employees that includes his close friend, Bob (Oliver Platt). There’s no reason to think that James‘ life isn’t as fulfilling and productive as a sighted person, until his circumstances change drastically.

James‘ eyesight suddenly returns shortly after the film’s opening credits sequence, which plays out over a playful morning conversation with Sam as they lay in bed. Set against a dark screen that is occasionally punctuated by a brief mix of faded shadows and light, this montage is highly effective in putting the viewer inside James‘ world as a blind man. But by the time that James makes his way into the bathroom for his morning shower, he sees his adult reflection in the mirror for the first time. At this point, the plot of The Ticket might be described as Awakenings meets 99 Homes, as James becomes almost frantically driven to make up for opportunities lost due to his blindness, and get what he feels he deserves as a sighted man.

The Ticket James and Son
James bonds with his son (Skylar Gaertner) while swimming in one of the film’s best scenes

With his vision restored, James is no longer content to work the phones in the office, and makes a pitch to the firm’s executives to launch an ambitious but ethically dubious marketing campaign which Bob immediately sees as a scam. He also becomes increasing preoccupied with his appearance; preening over his hair and investing in tailored suits to fit in better with the professional group of his co-workers that he aspires to join. As he butts heads with Sam over his desire to branch out into new activities,  while she prefers to stay in their comfortable routine (going dancing at a social center frequented by blind people, which is where the two first met), he also develops a wandering eye.

The Ticket James and Lover
Kerry Bishe and Dan Stevens in a scene from The Ticket

Actress Kerry Bishe (the best thing about AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire) is terrific as Jessica, James’ previously unattainable co-worker with whom he pursues an impulsive affair. By the time Sam tells James that if he leaves her, he can’t come back, he is too ‘blinded” by his own misguided ambition to stop the progress of a swiftly moving downward spiral of his own creation.

Because his sight returns so early in the film, we don’t get to experience much of Jamescharacter (or lack thereof)  while he is actually blind, so a degree of  imaginative extrapolation is necessary to surmise whether or not James was always a self-centered dick, or if his growth curve towards dick-ishness was just extremely steep. It’s hard not to empathize with his situation, but his careless selfishness doesn’t make him the most sympathetic protagonist. A fuller backstory showing James living his life and interacting with his loved ones while blind would have been helpful in clarifying the story’s point of view.

The title, The Ticket,  refers to a story that James repeats like a mantra during the film, whose message  boils down to how living life without taking action is like hoping to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket: you have to be “in it to win it.” Ultimately, The Ticket is a good —  not great —  low-key drama that effectively creates emotionally honest interpersonal scenarios, but once the ending  that can be seen coming from a mile away finally hits, you may feel like the writer should have spent a bit more time on the script. That said, it’s definitely recommended for fans of Dan Stevens, or any of the actors involved.

The Worley Gig Gives The Ticket 3 1/2 out of  5 Stars!

The Ticket Opens on April 7th, 2017 and will be playing in New York City at the Cinema Village on Second Avenue and 12th Street. The Ticket will also available On-Demand everywhere on that date. The Ticket in Unrated but OK for teenagers (kids will be bored) and has a runtime of 97 minutes.

Movie Review: Raw

Raw Movie Poster

If you enjoyed Netflix’s cannibal-themed comedy series, The Santa Clarita Diet, but just wish it featured more of the erotic sexual violence seen in the 2001 thriller Trouble Every Day, while also dishing up a plot that is more deeply-steeped in body horror, dark family secrets, and general fucked-up-edness, a new French horror film, Raw, may satisfy that craving. Raw, the debut feature film from director Julia Ducournau, tells the unconventional coming-of-age story of Justine, a pretty but sheltered teen who is starting her freshman year at veterinary college. Justine’s older sister, Alexia, also attends the school, and it is soon revealed that both of the girls’ parents are alumni as well.

Raised in a family of strict vegetarians, Justine has never even tasted meat. When she is unable to back out of a school hazing ritual involving the consumption of a raw rabbit kidney, the act triggers an immediate and alarming metamorphosis within the young student that is both physical and temperamental in nature.

raw-justine-chicken-still

Attempting to juggle her class schedule while simultaneously enduring the incessant bullying of her upperclassmen peers, Justine finds herself suffering from an acute sickness that the school’s doctor brushes off as food poisoning. In short order, she abandons her vegetarian diet in search of flesh, and also undergoes a sexual awakening when she finds herself irresistibly attracted to her hunky gay roommate Adrien.  When the two finally do get it on, the frenzied encounter plays out as one of the most harrowing sex scenes ever committed to celluloid!

Foreign films always seem to have an edge over American cinema when it comes to creating an effective atmosphere of creeping dread, in which the viewer becomes uncertain whether what is shown on screen is actually happening, or is just a manifestation of a character’s imagination — and Raw succeeds wildly in providing just enough subterfuge to keep you guessing until the very last scene as to what exactly is driving Justine’s insatiable new hunger.

There are many grisly, Cronenberg-esque scenes in Raw, but nothing the average horror film aficionado can’t stomach. The film also boasts terrific acting performances by the three leads; Garance Marillier as JustineElla Rumpf as Alexia, and Rabah Naït Oufella as Adrien. I look forward to watching other films featuring these actors. Recommended if you dig films like Carrie, The Hunger and We Are What We Are, The Worley Gig Gives Raw 4 out of 5 Stars!

With a run time of 98 minutes, in French with English Subtitles, Raw opens nationwide on March 10th, 2017. In NYC, the film opens at the Angelika Film Center, featuring Q&As on Thursday 3/9 following the 8pm show & Friday 3/10 following the 7:10pm show with Director Julia Ducournau and actress Garance Marillier. Details are at This Link.

Watch the Trailer Below:

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Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

JT Leroy Story Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

If you enjoy the slow reveal of a real-life mystery that unfolds with greater intrigue and a higher ‘WTF’ factor than the most oblique, multi-layered David Fincher script, then Author: The JT LeRoy Story is your wet dream of a documentary film. Author is the true story of wunderkind picaresque novelist JT LeRoy and the elaborate machinations behind the facade that disguised the Literary Hoax of the Century. Because, despite being one of the most popular and critically lauded writers of an entire decade (1996 to 2006), JT LeRoy never existed: he was merely an elaborate persona created by author Laura Albert  to take credit for stories she wrote from the perspective of an emotionally and psychologically traumatize teenage boy. When the JT LeRoy books reached a level of mega-success that required LeRoy to do press and make personal appearances, Albert got to work on fabricating one of the most brilliant and convoluted schemes ever conceived in the mind of someone who was hiding behind a pretty hefty stack of neuroses.

JT and Laura
Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, with Laura Albert as Speedy

Backed into a corner, Albert, with assistance from her husband Greg Knoop and sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, created a physical world that JT LeRoy could move around in, with Savannah portraying JT in public (Albert had already been impersonating him on the phone for years)  and Greg playing the part of JT’s lover/roommate, Asher. Albert took on the role of JT’s handler/sidekick, the British-accented ‘Speedy‘ (Albert is American). Together, the trio fooled everyone.

JT and Bono
JT and Bono

What makes Author: The JT LeRoy story such a complete success is that you don’t need to know anything about the backstory coming into it, to become thoroughly transported into the world of Laura Albert’s dual realities, and to stay engaged and outraged as those world’s fall apart over the course of two hours.  This film is just amazing on so many levels. There’s no doubt that Albert is, well, crazy; but that doesn’t make her any less of a creative genius. The lengths that Albert and her family went to to keep the JT LeRoy ruse alive, and the degree to which dozens — if not hundreds — of huge celebrities were either authentically duped, or, like Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, were just playing along is nothing short of mind blowing.

JT Michael Pitt Gus Van Sant
Actor Michael Pitt, JT and Film Director Gus Van Sant

Currently, Author: The JT LeRoy Story is tied with Wiener as the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year.

The Worley Gig Gives Author: The JT LeRoy Story Five out of Five Stars!

Author: The JT LeRoy Story Hits Theaters on September 9th, 2016 and will be Showing in NYC at both the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Theatre. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the Film has a Running Time of 110 Minutes. Watch the Trailer Below!

Morrison Hotel Gallery Presents: D.A. Pennebaker – Bob Dylan Don’t Look Back

Don't Look Back Poster
All Event Photos By Gail

In 1965, Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker released his enduring documentary, Don’t Look Back, which follows a young Bob Dylan emerging into worldwide prominence as the singer/songwriter of his generation. Maybe you weren’t born yet, but I was. In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of this now-legendary film – one which brings together an already iconic artist and a filmmaker who was in the process of revolutionizing the documentary, Morrison Hotel Gallery is currently hosting Don’t Look Back, a collection of photos taken of Dylan by Pennebaker during filming.

Bob Dylan

The show is thoughtfully curated and produced by industry vet Joseph Baldassare – in conjunction with MHG – and has the distinction of being the first gallery exhibit of Pennebaker’s work.

Dylan with Lyric Cards

The show features original movie posters and 18 choice image stills from the film, printed from the enhanced negative. Pennebaker, now 90 years of age, was at the opening reception and he looked great. To this day, he remains a vital cultural force. He recently screened his newest documentary, Unlocking The Cage, at The Sundance Film Festival, which will air on HBO later this year

Dylan with Donovan
Bob Dylan with Singer/Songwriter Donovan

Dylan Limo

Pennebaker and Gang
Pennebaker (Far Left) with Gallery Owners Peter Blachley (to his Right) and Henry Diltz (Center) and Fans

Says Baldassare about the show, “This exhibition at Morrison Hotel Gallery is a celebration of the artistry of both D.A Pennebaker and Bob Dylan – two pioneers that have shaped the way we see, hear and think.”

D.A. Pennebaker’s Photos from Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back, will be on Exhibit Through June 14th, 2016 at Morrison Hotel Gallery, Located at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, NYC.

Bob Dylan Exhibit Signage