Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Film Review - SUPER 8 (2011)

I had the pleasure of catching SUPER 8 at the IMAX theater this weekend.  I liked it a lot.  And the more I think about it, the more I like it.  I think it was a near-perfectly constructed summer movie.  In SUPER 8, a group of kids making a zombie movie on a super 8 camera get caught up in a train crash while filming.  And then things get wonky around the little Ohio town because of something that the train was carrying.  More after the jump...

Something JJ Abrams is great at -and I'd imagine his years of tv experience helps- is balancing and juggling the various storylines and relationships.  There is a monster or alien running around the town creating havoc, but the monster really doesn't come to the forefront until the 2nd or 3rd act.  Most of the movie deals with the relationships of the main characters.  We watch and revel and reminisce through the children's friendships and parent-troubles and even the wonderful awkwardness of a burgeoning first-love.  Though that may not satisfy the people that wanted to see a monster (in the first act, my companion turned to me and said, "There's an alien in this right?"), I love this kind of story telling.  I love the ordinary human stories told against the backdrop of extraordinary situations. It's how we can relate, care about, and invest in what's going on.  The weak monster movies concentrate too much on the monster and the monster's devastation and not enough on exploring the relationships of the characters.  For instance, the biggest problem that I had with CLOVERFIELD (produced by JJ Abrams, oddly) was I didn't give a crap about any of the characters.  Homeboy has to go save Beth... But we're not really given a reason to give a shit about Beth.  All we know is that she's pretty, and the lead character (don't remember his name) loves her... a lead character that we don't really give a shit about.  So, when that lead character goes on his quest to rescue Beth from a ambiguous danger, we just gotta accept it.  It felt like a plot for plot's sake.  The "love" story in SUPER 8 is innocent, naive and has a sweetness to it.  There's a buildup and a genuine connection established between the two kids.  So, when the lead boy goes on his foolhardy quest with his buds to save her, it kinda makes sense.

The cast (especially a cast full of kids) was very impressive, and I applaud the choice of casting mostly unknowns (with the exception of Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard... Wondering how many of yall know who they are...)  I know that stars bring in the people, but you have JJ Abrams and Spielberg doing that.  The lead kid (who hails from Moscow, Idaho... how in the blue hell am I just now hearing that there's a place called Moscow, Idaho?) did a hell of a job in his first acting job ever, and Elle Fanning was passively charming.  The other kids were just as fun, and you'd imagine they'd had a blast with this.

I don't know if it translates to regular theaters, but the train crash was EPIC.  Just loud and visceral and batshit crazy. One of the better action sequences I've seen in awhile.

The monster... Well, like the CLOVERFIELD monster, it's full appearance isn't revealed until later which works.  There's a fun tension and intrigue when you only catch a glimpse of the leg every now and then.  The sense of impending doom is always heightened when you can't see the threat.

What I didn't like... Not much.  I had a couple of unanswered questions when I walked out, but it didn't ruin the movie for me.  I grew a bit tired of JJ Abram's usage of the lens flare.  In STAR TREK, it was used excessively, but there was a stylishness in that movie that made it less noticeable (to me at least).  SUPER 8 takes place in a small town, and I noticed a lens flare right off the bat when they did an establishing shot of the town.  It was totally unnecessary, and I wondered if something was wrong with the film itself.  The main plot is unraveled at a decent-to-slow pace, but it's unraveled well.

SUPER 8 feels like the first "event" movie of the summer.  That is, this is the first movie that you HAVE to see, and boy I'm happy I did.
I gave it 8.5 of 10 pieces of sandwich.

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