REVIEW: “NEWS OF THE WORLD” (2020) Universal Pictures

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Adapting a beloved book can be a tricky thing and Paulette Jiles“NEWS OF THE WORLD” is no different a challenge to that here. But if we have learned one thing from films all these years, it would be that Tom Hanks would be the one who would be able to pull this off and make it along with Director Paul Greengrass, taking full advantage of our faith in Hanks acting abilities here.

In this visually phenomenal film version Tom Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who takes newspapers and then travels from one small town to another and for 10-cents admission and a sense of panache’- Kidd reads the news stories to weary people looking for a distraction. While traveling one day, he comes across a blonde hair-blue eyed young girl dressed in Native American wear who speaks no English, only Kiowa. With her caretaker having been lynched in front of her, the papers Kidd finds among her things are notes that she is 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young girl who’d been raised by Kiowa tribe and is now being returned against her will to her natural German aunt and uncle of whom she knows nothing about.

The film is all about the journey, which the captain undertakes with the girl reluctantly as the she rebels against this so hard at first, his conundrum is realizing the only guarantee of her safe return is if he takes her, and reluctantly we watch as the Captain agrees to accompany her on the journey home. In the long run it bares down to essentially being: two people, a wagon and two horses, driving through the vast nothingness. And as the two encounter numerous precarious situations along the way they begin to bond with each attempting to learn the others ways and language. Along the harrowing journey, encountering moments of true danger in almost each town they enter and every new territorial line they cross. Early on when they are cornered by a trio of swarthy men who want to ‘buy’ the girl, the tense build up that prevails and follows us throughout the journey can be dramatic and even terrifying at times, but eventually this is what will bring them together the closer as they come to the end of the journey and the pointed note of separating.

Zengel doesn’t say much throughout the film, but she has a wonderfully expressive face that speaks volumes with her eyes and it’s easy to believe that she has seen horrors. And even though this undoubtedly adds to Hanks’ performance, even as she’s saying nothing, her pain, her fear is palpable and Hanks plays well on this attribute. But make no mistake whose film this is – as the way Hanks portrays Kidd is the sort of performance that just seems written in stone for him and it’s a perfect vehicle for him and surprising in sorts to see him in a Western. There are numerous supporting cast who also help push the film along with Elizabeth Marvel, Mare Winningham, Ray McKinnon and Bill Camp to name a few. The movie itself is stirring despite there being no surprise in knowing where the story is headed once Johanna appears – and yes there are some grim sequences but overall its quite an enjoyable watch.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“NEWS OF THE WORLD” IS OUT ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN THEATERS/DRIVE-INS WHERE AVAILABLE AND ON NETFLIX IN JANUARY 2021

REVIEW: “EIGHTH GRADE” (2018) A24

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“EIGHTH GRADE” – directed by Bo Burnham, is a candidly witty and honest film about the life and times of the super-relatable, awkward eighth grade student Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she lives her way through her last weeks of middle school and prepares to enter the big, bad world of high school.

From the beginning, we the moviegoer, are pulled into an awkward teen video blog being shot by Kayla, in which she discusses, with all of the stammering teen lingo, the importance of being yourself to her very scarce amount of viewers. After Kayla stumbles her way through this vlog, a bright, electronic, loud song comes on as we see her walking up the sidewalk and into her school. Immediately the songs from the film pull you into the story, which abruptly ends as soon as the scene switches to Kayla sitting in her classroom. As we watch throughout the movie, the music in this film is designed to be not background music, but foreground music, playing its own role in the film. The music lifts when Kayla is lifted, builds the tension in her anxious, nervous moments, and stops abruptly in big moments, as though the audience is personally in and experiencing the moment with her.

The plot line of the movie takes even the most ‘popular’ people back to middle school in that the awkwardness and pain of trying to fit in, as well as the joy in figuring out who you are. These sheer realization moments are so relatable that it hurts as much now, as it might have then. The camera work with awkward close-ups, immediacy of confusing acts caught in slow motion, and montages that represent the sporadic-ness of the middle school girl’s mind follows the actions and thoughts of Kayla in such a way that the audience feels like they are reliving middle school with her. Through the first crush on a boy Aiden (Luke Prael), to trying to fit in with the popular girls Kennedy (Catherine Oliverie) & Steph (Nora Mullins) – to being at the mall trying to ‘hang out’ and having your older ‘cool’ high school freshman guide Olivia (Emily Robinson) and friends Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) & Trevor (Fred Hechinger), catch your dad (Josh Hamilton) spying on you at the mall.

Much unlike other middle school or high school coming-of-age stories, the film beautifully and accurately explores the eighth grader’s journey in trying to figure out who they are and find their identity as a person with all of the awkward, painful, triumphant and hopeful moments that come with this stage of life. Again, we the moviegoer watch with the struggles with Kayla as she tries to find herself amidst trying to be someone she’s not.

The acting by the entire supporting cast is so spot on – but the complete and total standout of this film is Elsie Fisher. What a brilliant, bright, nuanced performance this young actress gives. Keep an eye on this one people, as I predict she will be doing so much more and probably even better. All in all, this movie can be hard to watch, but I think that that’s because it is honest and truthful about what eighth grade can be like. I think some will relate more to it than others, but ultimately, it’s a really well-done take on the struggle that is middle school.

Grade: A-
@pegsatthemovies

Review screening: Thursday, July 12, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent
‘EIGHTH GRADE’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE AND IN U.K. // WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATE UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME

Post Q & A photo – Bo Burnham, Elsie Fisher, Elvis Mitchell – interview at Film Independent.