SUPER 8: The Film Babble Blog Review

SUPER 8 (Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2011)

Having grown up during the golden age of Spielberg (i.e. the late ’70s-early ’80s) I was immediately in tune with the vibe Abrams was going for here. It helps that mood and tone that SUPER 8 is set in a small mid-western town in 1979, and centers around a group of pre-teen kids.

Joel Courtney, who’s never acted in a movie before, stars as a shy model building C-student whose mother is killed in an accident at her factory workplace. His grieving father (Kyle Chandler) is the town’s deputy, and for obvious reasons things are strained between father and son.

Courtney’s pushy friend (Riley Griffith) is making a super 8 zombie movie, and with a small crew of kids, including fire-works crazy Ryan Lee, klutzy Zach Mills, and geeky Gabriel Basso, they sneak out late one night to work on it.

Griffith invites Elle Fanning to play the lead character’s wife, and because she has a car, to the excitement of Courtney who has a crush on her.

In the middle of filming on the platform of an old rickety train station, a freight train comes nosily down the tracks. Griffiths wants to get it on film citing “production values,” but Courtney sees a truck racing towards the train, and then there’s a ginormous crash, completely derailing the engine and all the compartments in a series of fiery explosions. The kids escape unharmed, well, one claims he was “scraped”, and recognize the driver of the truck as one of their school teachers.

They frantically leave the area when a bunch of shadowy men with flashlights descend on the wreckage.

That’s the set-up, and it’s a great one. From there a entertainingly tangled narrative involving a military cover-up, a budding romance between Courtney and Fanning, and, yes, a mysterious alien creature that was in one of the train’s compartments unfolds.

A wide-eyed sense of wonder coupled with cynicism about government misinformation effectively evokes the atmosphere of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and E.T., which is no surprise as Spielberg produced, and the film is a collaboration of Amblin Entertainment and Bad Robot Productions.

Like with his STAR TREK reboot, Abrams shows that he has a great grip on face-paced storytelling. As the movie lays out all its alien cards, the proceedings get a bit predictable, but the compelling craft on display never falters.

Abrams also gets the Spielbergian sentimentality down. No other recent sci-fi CGI blockbuster lately has had this much heart.

It’s a promising debut for Courtney, who endearingly captures the awe in this tale of how kids can outsmart the authorities, figure out a complex conspiracy, and help an alien get back home.

As for the rest of the cast – Fanning brings poise to a standard damsel in distress part, the set of smart- alecky kid are perfectly cast, and Chandler infuses his troubled cop character with intensity.

However, Noah Emmerich as a U.S. Army representative is standard one note villain. He still kind of fits here because it’s a common theme in this genre that the real bad guys are the government powers that be, not the aliens. Sure, there’s a lot of killing at the claws of the creature, but that’s because of military mistreatment and wrongful imprisonment, you see?

With a nice blend of nostalgia, emotional pull, and incredible special effects, SUPER 8 is as touching as it is a lot of fun.

Any be sure to stay for the end credits. I’m not going to tell you why, but trust me – you won’t want to miss it.

More later…

SOMEWHERE Doesn’t Go Anywhere

SOMEWHERE (Dir. Sofia Coppola, 2010)

“And I thought my life was meaningless!” – Moviegoer overheard coming out of this movie at the Colony Theater opening weekend.

Pampered movie star Stephen Dorff spends his days partying at the famous Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles nursing a broken arm after an unspecified on set stunt.

Dorff lays in bed drunk watching blonde twins poll dance in his hotel room, he drives a race car around a track over and over, he picks up various women; basically he is spiritually wasting away between press junkets.

Then his daughter (Elle Fanning) shows up and his life has meaning. Fanning is a precocious ballet dancing beauty whose face lights up when she sees her father – even though he’s obviously adrift.

There isn’t much of a plot beyond that. Dorff and Fanning drift along together though scenes of sunbathing at the hotel’s pool, playing the video game Rock Band, attending an Italian awards ceremony, and, well, just killing time.

As many of these scenes are without dialogue and have no tension, it’s easy to get lost in, and maybe be lured to sleep by, the spacey imagery.

Dorff plays a familiar yet uncompelling character – a bad boy actor slowly going to seed. At one point he has heavy makeup applied to his head for a shoot and he sits there motionless as the camera slowly pulls closer.

He has little reaction to seeing the finished old man makeup in the mirror in the next shot. It’s just another weird day as an actor in Hollywood.

I had little reaction myself to this movie. I got that Dorff is going through the motions, and that the film is an existential exercise, but unlike Coppolla’s LOST IN TRANSLATION which dealt with a similar situation (i.e. a movie star’s meaningless lifestyle) there’s barely anything to latch onto.

SOMEWHERE doesn’t go anywhere, and, but I know that’s probably the point.

Coppola has an arresting visual sensibility and definitely great taste in music (French alt rockers Phoenix provides the score with tracks by Bryan Ferry, T-Rex, The Strokes, and the Foo Fighters filling out the soundtrack), but the overall empty ambience just sits there.

What there is to take away from this airy tale of a celebrity and his offspring hanging out I really can’t figure. That it’s a very pretty yet unbearably dull experience is all I can muster.

More later…