Search:

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Eighth Grade

“Skyscraper,” “Hotel Artemis,” and “Hotel Transylvania 3” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It’s not easy being a teen. It’s especially hard to be a shy, introverted, thirteen year old girl with a doughy body and acne. In spite of this, horny boys in her age group will still want to see her naked—and they’re not shy about disclosing this desire. The other girls aren’t that much better. They’re self-obsessed, shallow, vapid, and mean. Good thing there’s dad—the one person in her life who gives her unconditional love and support. The catch is that she regards him as an embarrassment and shuts him out as much as possible. Poor guy—he’s just trying to connect.

This, in a nutshell, is what “Eighth Grade” is all about. As a first time full-length feature from writer-director Bo Burnham, it’s auspicious and impressive. I have a feeling that a lot of Bo’s experiences reflect that of Kayla (Elsie Fisher), the awkward thirteen-year-old at the movie’s center. This is up to and including the fact that kids in middle schools today have active shooter drills in addition to the usual fire drills. Oh, the times in which we live.

While Kayla might be quiet and a bit mousy in real life, she takes on a whole other persona online. Kayla makes Youtube videos (something Burnham knows a thing or two about) where she gives life advice. Almost invariably, the advice she gives is the opposite of what she actually does. This discrepancy is a very astute observation on Burnham’s part. Increasingly, people in America, and especially the young, are spending more time on social media. The problem is that the younger generation doesn’t have the perspective to know that not everything they see online is an accurate portrayal of a person’s life. Folks tend to exaggerate their online profiles. This leads those comparing themselves to others for validation to feel inadequate and empty. What’s interesting about Kayla is that she is both a victim of this feeling of being lesser to her peers and also a perpetrator of it, since her online persona is the exact opposite of who she is IRL (that’s “in real life” to you fogies over 30). Or at least, she would be a perpetrator if anyone watched her videos.

8thGrade2

Dad (Josh Hamilton) is no help, as he is an enabler of his daughter’s screen junkie lifestyle. This isn’t surprising though. He’s a single Dad who desperately wants to have a meaningful conversation with this adolescent daughter. Even before the technology we have today, this was a Sisyphean task. Now he has to compete for her attention along with Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, and the hundreds of songs blaring into Kayla’s ears that she has stored on her phone. Also, as a sign of the times, one of the snobby girls in Kayla’s class, Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), points out that no one uses Facebook anymore.

“Eighth Grade” is such an amazing success because it rings so true. While not everyone had the exact same experiences as Kayla, they are relatable in one way or another, regardless of if you are an eighth grader today, twenty years ago, or fifty years ago. It has a timeless authenticity to it in all of the butterflies in the stomach, anxiety-inducing, nervous, awkward, insecure moments we all have as we hit those pubescent years. Some just hide their insecurities better than others. Unfortunately for Kayla, she can’t hide hers at all. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Skyscraper

“Skyscraper,” the “Die Hard” meets “The Towering Inferno” homage, feature length duct tape commercial, and Asian market cash grab that tanked in the U.S. over the summer, is getting its Blu-Ray release this week. The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as Will Sawyer, a security expert who must rescue his family after the world’s tallest building, located in Hong Kong, is set ablaze by a Euro trash gang led by the vicious Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who has the coolest bad guy name since Keyser Soze.

Sure, this movie is toss away popcorn nonsense—but it’s good toss away popcorn nonsense. Everything you need to know about the final showdown in the movie is set up in the opening, including a hostage situation involving a man with a bomb and a small child, as well as a room full of screens that act like a modern-tech version of the classic ending of “Enter the Dragon.” As much as the movie nods its head to “The Towering Inferno,” it also reminded me in parts of another Irwin Allen disaster movie from 1980 called “When Time Ran Out,” particularly when a flimsy bridge is used to cross over a fiery pit.

Oddly enough, with all of the times that Sawyer is in and out of the building, the movie that sprang to mind the most is “Silver Streak,” possibly the best Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor pairing, and a movie in which Wilder finds himself off and on a moving train over and over again. “Skyscraper” isn’t as funny as “Silver Streak,” nor is it as suspenseful as “The Towering Inferno” or as action packed as “Die Hard.” I would recommend all of these movies over “Skyscraper.” However, what is there in “Skyscraper” is entertaining and enjoyable in a vacuous, shut off mind and plant tongue in cheek sort of way, and for that, it is worth checking out. Due to the dizzying visuals, the bigger the screen the better. Or maybe go smaller, depending on your tolerance of heights. Rent it.

Hotel Artemis

The premise of “Hotel Artemis” is one of the most inspired to come along in years. The foundation of the movie, about a hospital that caters to criminals only in riot-torn 2028 Los Angeles, is fresh and original. Too bad the execution is so bungled.

I can’t help but think of what a great suspense-drama could have been made out of this idea. There was such promise and the cast is fantastic, with Jodie Foster looking older than she should as The Nurse, an agoraphobic ex-medical professional who runs the Hotel Artemis, an otherwise abandoned shell of a building with the “hospital” on the top floor. Membership is exclusive, and caters to the underworld only. Already at the hotel are Everest (Dave Bautista) the orderly, Nice (Sofia Boutella) the assassin, and Acapulco (Charlie Day) the arms dealer. Joining them after a bank robbery goes bad are Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) and Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown). The Nurse has a set of rules that all guests must follow, and she does her best with her skills and available equipment to patch up various wounds, mostly from guns.

I’ll give “Hotel Artemis” credit for heading in the right direction with the introduction of Morgan (Jenny Slate), a cop who long ago was friends with The Nurse’s deceased son. This not only provides The Nurse with a crisis of conscience, but also grounds her character with a tragic backstory. The elements of suspense, drama, and character interplay as personalities collide.

Then the guy who owns the place, known as the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), shows up, along with his son (Zachary Quinto) and a whole bunch of armed goons. At this time I still held out hope of some decent suspense as there is a concern that the guy who owns the place will find out that a hospital catering to criminals has let in a cop. None of that though. The movie degenerates in typical fashion, with explosions and senseless violence. What makes it especially weird is that none of the armed goons remember that they have weapons. They stupidly charge in when it would be smarter to take cover and fire. But if they did that, then all of the folks we’ve spent the past 80 minutes with would be dead, so writer-director Drew Pearce had all the baddies forget they’re armed. When a movie gets this contrived, it’s hard to stick with it. Too bad too, since the first hour or so of this 90 minute movie is pretty solid. It’s sad to see a fresh idea turn into such a wasted opportunity. Stream it.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

The “Hotel Transylvania” team is back in “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” and this time they are trading the hotel in Transylvania for a cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle. As Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) very observantly points out, it’s a hotel—on the water.

This time we get a bit of history as we see all of the bungled attempts of famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (voice of Jim Gaffigan) to rid the world of Dracula, as well as of Frankenstein (voice of Kevin James), Wayne the wolf man (voice of Steve Buscemi), Griffin (voice of David Spade) the invisible man, and Murray (voice of Keegan-Michael Key) the mummy. Three movies in, they finally have one that takes place on the water, and still no Creature from the Black Lagoon. The closest they come is with the help on the ship, who are all fish people. One of them is named Stan, voiced by the always reliable deadpan delivery of Chris Parnell.

Romance is in the air—but not for Dracula’s daughter Mavis (voice of Selena Gomez) and her husband Johnny (voice of Andy Samberg). They had their “zing” in the first movie. This time it’s Dracula’s turn to zing (fall in love) again—with Ericka (voice of Kathryn Hahn), the captain of the ship. But this is no love boat. Ericka has a secret, and it’s not good news for Dracula.

The “Hotel Transylvania” movies are the most successful Adam Sandler movies of late. It behooves him to be a part of a larger supporting cast with a lot of talent so he’s not carrying too much of the movie on his shoulders. It also helps that he lends only his voice to the proceedings so no one can see him phoning it in like he’s done with his past few live performances. Sandler’s early movies were funny because of his boundless, manic energy. That has been missing as of late, but a bit of it is captured when combining his voice with an animated image. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Deadly Crush,” about a painter who rents a secluded cabin to jump start her creativity, has sex with a ghost, and finds herself part of his wicked plan to bring himself back to life, starring William Sadler, Courtney Gains, Jenna Willis, and Judy Tenuta; “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” Gus Van Sant movie about John Callahan, who became paralyzed after a car accident at age 21 and turned to drawing as a form of therapy, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Udo Kier, and Carrie Brownstein; and “Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit,” documentary for which the title says it all.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts