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…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2009

All this last month readers have been asking me for my top 10 movies of 2009. I’ve mentioned before that some major prestige films don’t get to my area until late January or early February or later, and that’s not considering many Foreign films that aren’t released in these parts until months after the Oscars so it’s usually a month or so into the year before I post my picks. So since there’s no way I’m going to catch up anytime soon and because tomorrow the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced, now is as good a time as any for my list for what I think was a great and diverse year for film:

1. A SERIOUS MAN (Dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen)

“The greatest films are the ones that leave you not able to explain, but you know that you have experienced something special. I’ve always had this feeling that the perfect response to a film or a piece of work of mine would be if someone got up and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s right.’ That’s the feeling you want – ‘That’s right’ – and it comes from four or five layers down, it comes from the inside rather than from the outside.”
– Robert Altman

I’ve been plowing through the new book: “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” since I got it for Christmas and I was struck by the quote above. It made me think of A SERIOUS MAN, though the latest Coen Brothers cinematic conundrum is anything but Altman-esque. With Michael Stuhlburg leading an equally unknown cast into the academic abyss of late 60’s suburban Minneapolis, it’s the Brothers’ most personal work to date. Whether it’s a post modern riff on the story of Job or a series of nonsensical jabs at everybody’s existential expense, it’s a perplexingly pleasing parable. Read my original review here.

2. UP (Dir. Pete Docter)

Last year the same #2 position on this list was held by a Pixar film (WALL-E) so I was tempted to go in another direction here. But, that would’ve been wrong because UP honestly deserves this space. The first 10 minutes alone deserve this space. This wonderful tale of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) – a crotchety old widower who attaches thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South Africa is a rambunctiously inventive and funny flight. And if you don’t cry at that sweeping opening montage, either you have a heart of stone or you’re Armond White. Read my original review here.

3. THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Every explosion has an emotional impact in this gripping war drama featuring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert who’d rather risk his life in Iraq than be home with his wife. Read my original review here.

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This indulgent alternate history World War II film is possibly over-stuffed with story strands but as I said in my original review: “the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact.” Read the rest of that review here.

5. BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders)

Though it was little seen, this is hands down the funniest film of 2009. Forget THE HANGOVER, this blaxploitation homage/satire/greatest hits has more laughs per minute and is sure to be one Helluva a future cult classic. Read more here.


6.
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Dir. Wes Anderson)



Wes Anderson’s stylistic whimsy works wonders in this friendly, fuzzy, and ferociously witty film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. So does George Clooney’s charm which I enjoyed more here than in a certain air-born live action film that is sure to get more acclaim awards wise. Read my original review of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

7. BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jane Campion) An unfortunately overlooked period piece centering on poet John Keats’ (Ben Whishaw) doomed courtship of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). A beautifully moving work with first rate performances including a scene stealing Paul Schneider as Keats’ writing partner Charles Armitage Brown. With hope the Academy will take notice. Read my original review here.

8. DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp) Without a doubt the most frighteningly original (and strikingly satirical) work of science fiction of the year. A misadventure in alien apartheid leaves a wet behind the ears field operative (Sharlto Copley) with his arm mutated to that of a “prawn” and he…oh, just go watch it. Read my original ravings here.

9. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! (Dir. Sacha Gervasi)

This documentary about a Spinal Tap-ish band of aging Canadian heavy metal rockers may have you snickering at first but before you know it they win your heart over with their “never say die” determination. As I said in my original review: “Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it.”

10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (Dir. Werner Herzog) Speaking of “never say die”, Nicholas Cage re-ignites the crazy edge of his persona in this twisted and surrealistic corrupt cop crime caper while he re-ignites his “lucky crack pipe” yelling “I’ll kill all of you…to the break of dawn! To the break of dawn baby!” Read about more craziness and how this does and doesn’t relate to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 BAD LIEUTENANT here.

Spillover:


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)


ZOMBIELAND (Dir. Ruben Fleisher)


THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat)

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci)


A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford)


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Dir. Spike Jonze)


AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes)

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill)


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert Siegel)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Dir. Marc Webb)

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones)


ABEL RAISES CAIN (Dirs. Jenny Abel & Jeff Hocket)


TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray)

I didn’t write reviews of these but they are also strongly recommended:


SUMMER HOURS (Dir. Olivier Assayas)


GOODBYE SOLO (Dir. Ramin Bahrani)

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) Yep, that’s right.


More later…

Serious Series Addiction: The Wire, Lost, & The Prisoner (1967)

Despite this being “Film Babble Blog” I do babble about TV shows every now and then. This is one of those times.


I had only 2 New Year’s resolutions this year – to exercise more and to finish all 5 seasons of The Wire. I dug my wife’s old exercise bike out of the garage and set it in front of the TV so I could do both. I had begun The Wire sometime last year but put it on the back burner, not because I didn’t like it but because of the many movies that were ahead of it on my list of priorities.

After hearing so many folks refer to it as “the greatest TV series ever” I decided it was time to fully see what all the fuss is about. Over the last few weeks I’ve been pedaling away on the bike devouring one episode of David Simon’s exemplary Baltimore crime drama.

I am now on season 5 episode 4 and have lost over 10 pounds in the process.

I learned that a friend of mine was also making his way through The Wire after he got the full series as a Christmas gift. Talking to him on IM he spoke of other friends that were catching the bug as well.

Then, just this week, Onion AV head writer Nathan Rabin posted a piece for their ongoing “Better Late Than Never” feature about finally watching the show’s first season so it seems the show is slowly but surely searing its way into our collective pop culture psyche.

If you’ve never seen The Wire – it can be a daunting undertaking because it’s very complex with a lot of characters and can be hard to follow at first. It seemingly gives equal time to the good, the bad, and the ugly from sleazy politicians to the cops on the beat right down to the lowest level druggie scum with a level of authenticity that’s astounding. It stands with The Sopranos as a novelistic epic and as one of the most engrossingly addictive shows ever.

The Wire isn’t the only show I’ve been pedaling to recently. Since I’ve had to wait for discs of it to come in the mail from Netflix I’ve been checking out what’s available now on Instant.

I noticed that J.J. Abrams’ popular FOX television show Lost was just added so since I’d never seen it I decided to give it a whirl.

Well, I’ve watched most of season 1 and while I certainly think it’s entertaining in a Gilligan’s Island as if written by Stephen King way, I’m not sure if I’m going to keep on plowing through. With their 6th season starting next week, there’s no way I can catch up anytime soon and the idea of trying just tires me out thinking about it. But once I finish The Wire, who knows?

Another series that has been on my “to do” list for a long time is The Prisoner – the original 1967 BBC one not the new AMC re-imagining (though that’s recorded and waiting on my DVR).

I’ve only watched a few episodes of the new Blu ray edition (very nice looking transfer) of the series and so far it’s been a real treat.

Former spy Patrick McGoohan trapped in an idyllic seaside village in which large creepy white balls descend and suffocate those who try to escape, the show earns its cool cult status right from its snazzy swinging start. Check out its awesome opening sequence:

So those are some shows that have been keeping me from the movies lately. Don’t worry though – I’ve got some fine babble concerning actual films coming soon so please stay tuned.


More later…