Eighth Grade (2018)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual material

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Written by: Bo Burnham

Directed by: Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, and Fred Hechinger

Eighth grade is two words that strikes the largest sense of dread throughout my entire body and soul. Eighth grade was easily one of the worst years of my life and was also one of my largest changes. As a bearer of modern memories of extreme social media use and loss of physical interaction, this film is meant to relate to people like me. But, the question is, does Bo Burnham, considering this film being his directorial debut, use the right elements to actually craft a legitimately awkward film? The answer is an absolute definitive YES.

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The extremely introverted Kayla is in her last week of middle school. Struggling with many usual early teenage problems, Kayla is desperately trying to find her place in the world. Through a series of YouTube videos, Kayla documents her feelings towards very tough concepts to grasp at times such as confidence and being yourself. She also has problems handling her dad and goes through sexual revelations as boys around her make (sometimes) disturbing advances.

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Bo Burnham did the absolute smartest thing while casting, and casted a bunch of general nobody’s seem to be plucked from any town in the United States. The most surprising part about this is the acting is exceptionally amazing. The lead actress and her fictional father’s chemistry runs so deep, and in a scene lit only by a fire, you find yourself nearing tears at the beauty behind these two actors. Burnham lets his scenes play out for as long as he needs them to, which really builds these characters into lovable people that you root for.

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The music and it’s use in the film creates really intense sequences that really captures each moment in a way that you feel everything directly through the screen. Eventually, this film really seems more like a memory than a story. It feels so uncanny that it is a fictional story due to the realism and the use of present day technology to create an interesting and visceral experience. There’s many scenes that I could watch and instantly felt due to experiences that I’ve previously had in middle school, even though this is in the perspective of a female.

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There’s a sequence in this film that takes place in a car that feels like it goes on forever due to the intense feeling of uncomfortableness that emanates from it. I know I’ve mentioned the wonderful characters before but I have to mention more because of how wonderfully developed each person is. There is a kid that is only seen twice in the whole film who had me grin from ear to ear the entire time he was on screen. He is probably one of the most lovable characters I’ve seen in a film all year. My only complaint about this whole film is that I wish I had seen more of this kid. Also, the father in this film does an amazing job at being a fun loving dad that doesn’t know his limits.

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Bo Burnham, known most notably for his stand up comedy specials, does an amazing first effort in the director’s chair and created one of my favorite movies of 2018, thus far. If Burnham continues directing future projects, I will definitely keep an eye out for their release. Once this film is released on home video (unless you can make a screening in the next day), definitely pick it up and support this brilliant piece of modern cinema.

Grade: A

Traffic (2000)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: RĀ for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality.

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(based on the 1989 British television serial, Traffik)

Written by: Stephen Gaghan

Directed by: Steven Soderbourgh

Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quad, and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Drug trafficking and the U.S.’s determination to destroy it is one of the largest political debates there is. In 2000, Steven Soderbourgh directed a film that set out to tackle every aspect of this very obvious problem. In 5 different stories, Soderbourgh finds a way to design a truly beautiful and personal look at the impact drugs have in our communities and in our governments. This political piece takes a middle ground in political opinions and will surge you full of plenty of different emotions to keep you interested from title screen to credits.

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This film follows five connected stories on either side of the Mexican border near San Diego. A newly appointed drug czar (Michael Douglas) is trying to find his footing in a world he has no experiences with. A selfless Mexican cop (Benicio del Toro) who is just trying to look out for his best friend. A couple of detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who are trying to crack down on one of the largest drug trafficking organizations. A wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who’s husband has been hauled off to prison after being busted for leading a drug trafficking organization. Finally, the drug czar’s daughter (Erika Christenson) is having her own battles with drug abuse after being introduced by her boyfriend.

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The first thing that I must praise this film for is it’s ability to feel truly realistic and create five immensely entertaining and impactful stories. The different locations are differentiated through different filters and saturations that create an interesting visual look and makes for an easily understandable change in story. The use of real government facilities and the appearances of many real life senators and governors make the film feel much more like a documentary than a fictional film.

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Benicio del Toro won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars the year this film came out. For good reason too, Benicio steals the show with his undeniable presence he brings the second he walks on screen. The emotional performance he gives is nothing short of extraordinary. In one of his last scenes, he makes a deal with someone and says that all he wants is lights for the baseball field in his home town so the boys could play safely at night.

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Probably the weakest story in the film is the one following Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character. It starts off very strong but everything likeable about the characters in this situation disappears in the last half of the story. Also, i feel like the film could have ended each story with a more satisfying conclusion. Even though the film runs for almost 2 and a half hours, I think it could’ve held up even better with an extra hour added on. The film just did not feel long enough for me.

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“If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.” Michael Douglas and his fictional daughter played by Erika Christensen are both one of the greatest things about this film. They both bring in an amazing performance with very realistic chemistry that makes for some very intense and heartbreaking scenes. It’s very relateable on both ends and makes you really feel for both of these characters to a deep level.

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Traffic is paced at a breakneck speed and goes by quicker than one might expect. A near perfect film that makes me very interested in what else the highly acclaimed Steven Soderbourgh has to offer. I definitely recommend this film to anybody who wants to have an enjoyable and emotional time. A warning to people sensitive to drug use because there are some very graphic scenes of drug use.

Grade: A

Blue Sextet (1969)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Written by: David E. Durston

Directed by: David E. Durston

Starring: John Damon, Peter Clune, and Coco Sumaki

Blue Sextet is a very obscure sexploitation film directed by David E. Durston (I Drink Your Blood) that turns out to be more of an artsploitation gem that got lost over the years. One may not expect from the title or nature of the film/director, that this is a film that is actually an interesting piece of cinema. The edgy tone of the film pushes the limits and the wonderful storytelling and use of flashbacks give this film a need to be rediscovered by film lovers alike.

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The beloved Jeff Ambler (John Damon) has committed suicide. A group of his friends gather together to get to the bottom of what truly happened. Each friend knows a little more about the man than the other. As the truth is uncovered we realize that Jeff Ambler was an awful, egotistical monster who would do anything to get what he wants. Then, when more is revealed, you begin to wonder who the real monster is.

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There are some very touchy subjects used in this film in a way to show how manipulative this man was. Such as Jeff setting up his cheating friend with a transvestite, just so that Jeff can have sex with his girlfriend, and his endless stack of homemade porn of various women he drugged and used for his fantasies. The film has some odd sequences that may take the viewer out of the experience but I found these sequences to be super entertaining.

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There is a scene in this film that is very similar to a scene in Friday The 13th Part 4 (created 20 years later) where one of the characters watches the weirdest softcore porn and giggles throughout while the other characters are noticeably upset. The ending to the film was somewhat of a shocker for me and I liked the original idea of having multiple endings to show two different outcomes.

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Blue Sextet needs to be given a chance with the right mind set, this is not an all out sex ridden borderline porno. It is however, an enjoyable and semi-complex arch that I found to be highly enjoyable. I personally prefer this film way over the film that I had ultimately expected it to be and was pretty close to just skipping this film altogether. But trust me, this film NEEDS to be rediscovered. If you would like to view this film, the only official release is as a bonus co-feature to I Drink Your Blood in Grindhouse Releasing’s blu ray edition.

Grade: B+


The Graduate (1967)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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(based on The Graduate by Charles Webb)

Written by: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry

Directed by: Mike Nichols

Starring: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, and Katharine Ross

The Graduate, the sophomore effort of Mike Nichols following the Oscar winning Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, is one of the greatest American films in history. The Graduate had an unforgettable cultural impact that influences young filmmakers to this day (including myself). This film is easily the most relateable and entertaining film that I’ve ever seen, and still remains my all time favorite film. Mike Nichols won his first (and only) Oscar for Best Director due to his brilliant attention to detail in this comedic masterpiece.

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Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a little worried about his future. After coming home from graduating college, his parents bring all their friends over and throw huge parties to celebrate “him” and he begins to feel lost in his own shoes. Until he begins to have an affair with a friend of the family, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Then, he begins to realize that he is falling in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross) who has no clue about the fling that ensued.

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The brilliant cinematography that was mostly fueled through Mike Nichols vision, makes the film so visually interesting. The soundtrack completely made up of songs by Simon and Garfunkel creates an appropriate melancholic atmosphere. The performance given by Dustin Hoffman is so honest and he fits his role perfectly. The on screen chemistry between Hoffman and his lovers feels so awkwardly realistic. Especially a scene where Hoffman grabs Bancroft’s boob and then repeatedly bangs his head on the wall (which in the moment was Hoffman trying his best not to laugh).

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The character growth is a great aspect of this film as well. The final shot is one of the most memorable final shots in cinema history, leaving you with the same uncertain feelings you’re sure that they feel. The opening shot as he gets off his airplane and stands on the moving walkway puts you in just the right mood as The Sound of Silence plays and mixes with Hoffman’s blank stare.

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The Graduate is an unbelievable film that I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t given it a chance yet. Every time I think about certain parts of this film, it just makes me want to pull it back out and view it again. Also, the Criterion release is a great copy of the film with new interviews, one of which is the widow of the cinematographer. Now, that’s enough from me about this film, go watch it… like, as soon as you can.

Grade: A+

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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(based on The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle)

Written by: Peter S. Beagle

Directed by: Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass

Starring: Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, Paul Frees, and Rene Auberjonois

Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass are mostly known for their christmas specials (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, etc.) and their animated Tolkien adaptions. Another animated adaption that they took part in was this little “girl” animated gem, The Last Unicorn. One wouldn’t expect a film like this to be a beautiful piece of animation with an honest and mesmerizing story with enjoyable characters.

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A young unicorn (Mia Farrow) overhears that she could possibly be the last of her species. After hearing, she travels out of her realm to find out the truth behind these assumptions. Along the way she befriends a magician named Schmedrick (Alan Arkin) and Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes). She finds out on her journey that she must go to the castle of King Haggard (Christopher Lee) and confront him in his genocide of the unicorns. Upon reaching, she has been mistakenly turned into a human and falls in the with the son of King Haggard, Price Lir (Jeff Bridges).

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I was honestly very surprised at the talent behind this film. The acting and direction, as well as the beautifully executed animation. This film is a great mix of drama and comedy as well as withstanding a sense of reality. The Last Unicorn really takes on some tough topics, even if it wasn’t a kid’s movie. It’s bold and honest and the characters make the whole story and idea work. The music isn’t awful either, but eventually it just begins to feel like the same old stuff and really doesn’t add anything great to the film.

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“But what if it isn’t a happy ending?” asks one character to another in the toughest part of the story, the other character replies “there’s never happy endings, because nothing ends.” I feel these quotes are great capsules of what makes The Last Unicorn a great animation film, it is brutally honest even in the darkest of times. But, not even five minutes before this quote is said, is some of the greatest comic relief I’ve ever seen. A character named simply as The Skull, played by Rene Auberjonois, is greeting all of our protagonists as they are trying to race against the clock (quite literally). The moment makes for some great laughs and charm.

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The climax of the film is immensely satisfying and ends with a great message of everything won’t turn out exactly the way you want it to, but that’s okay. If you’re biased about watching this film (I certainly was, my girlfriend forced me to watch it) due to the thought of it being a girly little kid’s movie, put your thoughts aside and just sit down and enjoy yourself. I feel any fan of fantasy film or Jim Henson-esque films would love this. I must say that it definitely beats The Dark Crystal any day of the week.

Grade: B+

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