Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Rating: *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Written and Directed By: J. J. Abrams

Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffths, Noah Emmerich

The Gist: A group of friends witness a train crash while filming their own zombie movie in the summer of '79. Turns out the train is holding some mysterious and deadly cargo.

Incredibly Lame One-line Review: Super 8 is super gr8!

The Review: There's plenty to like about this film, but it is by no means perfect. One of the highlights is the acting. I've read reviews praising Abrams' decision to cast relatively unknowns to play the kids in the film, and I will definitely agree. I really enjoyed Joel Courtney's performance as the lead (playing Joe Lamb); he gives a very authentic performance and does better than most of the child actors working today. He's a likable kid who you want to root for. In this case, we're rooting for Joe to get the girl - Alice, played by Elle Fanning. Their relationship is very innocent and it definitely provides some nostalgic feelings - it's the kind of relationship that makes you think back to your first crush and almost makes you forget how much of a bad note that first crush ended on. Anyway, in order for this relationship to work on the screen, Alice is also needed to be portrayed flawlessly - which is the case. Even though most of the kids in the film are unknown, that's certainly not the case for Elle Fanning. You'll recognize her last name for sure, but Elle isn't just riding the coattails of her older sister Dakota (she did a great job in Somewhere as well as this film). Some of the best scenes are the ones that only involve Joe and Alice.

But the other kids are pretty damn good as well. I think you might also read comparisons of this cast to that of a film like the Goonies; there are definitely similar archetypes in this one. But it is obvious that that's what Abrams was trying to capture. This film is very much in the mold of an E.T. or The Goonies - an children's adventure flick that isn't necessarily for children. Riley Griffths plays Charles - the director of the Zombie flick and your typical bossy friend. I think we all know someone like him and have been bossed around by him or her when we were growing up. Another really good performance.

So while I'm able to praise the kids in the movie, I do admit that I wasn't as impressed with the adults - not that they had a whole lot to do in the film. Kyle Chandler (who plays Joe's father, Jack) is an actor I'm not crazy about. I don't think he's a bad actor, I just feel he looks too generic. And since the character is named Jack, why not cast Matthew Fox, Abrams? He needs work.

While the film's A-story deals with the relationships in the film, the B-story deals with the "monster" on the train. I won't get into too many details about this "monster," but I've heard some reviews stating that it was a bit of a disappointment. In Terri Gross' recent interview with Abrams, he said that he wanted to spend more time developing the A-story than working on what the "monster" would look like. I think this is commendable (given Hollywood's current nature), but no doubt - if you put a mysterious "monster" in a film, you kinda have to deliver. I would agree that, in the end, the monster is a bit of a disappointment. The A-story definitely lands and the B-story sort of falters. But I would argue that the film isn't ruined because of it. It's still enjoyable and I cared more about the relationship between Joe and Alice anyway. So while the monster's story is something that's a little rehashed (similar to E.T. and District 9), the last few shots worked for me because it provided a great moment for Joe and Alice and Joe and his Dad.

I would recommend this film to all, but at the same time, I don't mean to suggest that it is a great film or a must-see. It is what it is, an enjoyable adventure flick that provides more good than bad. And because Spielberg was one of the producers for the film, it will inevitably be compared to his work. And whether that's fair or not, I will probably agree that this movie isn't as good as E.T., Jurassic Park, or The Goonies. I do feel that it's a nice homage, though.

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