EIGHTH GRADE (15)
Looking back over the battlefield of my schooldays from the safe distance of mellowing middle age, I'm reminded of tiny, beautiful victories in an exhausting war of attrition to fit in with peers, who always seemed to be smarter, funnier and cooler than me.
Award-winning stand-up comedian Bo Burnham eloquently captures the anguish and insecurity of those so-called wonder years in his heartfelt and exquisite debut feature. Anchored by a mesmerising lead performance of unvarnished, naked emotion from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade joins an elite class of cinematic coming of age stories, which candidly reflect a pivotal moment when hormones rage and every heartbreak is amplified beyond rational thought to the end of days. Humour and uncomfortable self-reflection are best buddies in Burnham's polished script, which doesn't spare his central character any blushes.
BEL CANTO (15)
Love blossoms in the sweltering heat of an unnamed South American country during a blood-spattered hostage crisis in director Paul Weitz's slow-burning thriller.
Based on the novel by Ann Patchett, Bel Canto punctuates the stand-off between gun-toting rebels and an unflinching government with soaring arias performed by American soprano Renee Fleming, whose impeccable trills are lip-synced by Oscar winner Julianne Moore.
These operatic interludes strike a deep emotional chord but the melodrama enveloping them, adapted for the screen by Weitz and Anthony Weintraub, is frequently off-key and struggles to kidnap our undivided attention. Moore catalyses polite screen chemistry with co-star Ken Watanabe that barely simmers and certainly never achieves boiling point, weakening a confidently staged and tragic finale fit for an opera, albeit in pyrotechnic-laden slow motion.