“SUPER 8” (2011) Review

 

“SUPER 8” (2011) Review

When I first saw the trailer for J.J. Abrams’ new movie, “SUPER 8”, I had a very difficult time generating any interest in the film. I would have easily ignored it if it were not for the fact that two or three of my favorite actors were featured in the film and that it was produced by Steven Spielberg. 

My feelings toward J.J. Abrams’ previous work are rather mixed. Yes, I realize that he was one of the creators of such television series as “ALIAS” and “LOST”. But Abrams ended up distancing himself from both shows before they eventually suffered from a decline in writing quality. I enjoyed his work on “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III”. But his “STAR TREK” reboot left me wondering about his talent as a writer and director. But after watching “SUPER 8” this summer, my faith in his talent has been fully restored.

Set in 1979, “SUPER 8” told the story of a group of young friends in their early teens filming their own Super 8 movie for a film festival for amateurs, when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town of Lillian, Ohio. The story began 13 year-old Joe Lamb dealing with the death of his mother in a factory accident. A neighbor named Louis Dainard appears at the wake, but Joe’s father a deputy sheriff named Jackson Lamb, leads him away in handcuffs. Jackson blames Louis for his wife’s death because he was absent during his shift and she had to fill in for him.

Four months later, Joe’s friend, Charles Kaznyk, makes plans to film a zombie movie on Super 8 mm film for an amateur film festival. Along with Joe, he hires Dainard’s daughter Alice to be part of the cast. After stealing her father’s car, Alice takes Joe, Charles, Preston, Martin, and Cary to an old train depot; where the group plans to film a scene. During the shoot, Joe watches a pick-up truck drive onto the tracks and place itself in the path of an oncoming train, causing a massive derailment. In the aftermath of the accident, the kids find the wreck littered with strange white cubes. They approach the truck and discover Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, behind the wheel of the truck. He instructs them to never talk about what they saw; otherwise they and their parents will be killed. Moments afterwards, the U.S. Air Force, led by one Colonel Nelec, arrives to secure the crash site. The kids flee the scene. Over the next couple of days, a number of strange phenomena occur throughout the Lillian neighborhood. A good number of the town’s dogs run away. And kitchen appliances, car engines, and power lines vanish. Also, many people begin to disappear, among them the town’s sheriff. Joe, Alice and their friends start investigating the strange phenomenons around Lillian, as they continue to shoot Charles’ movie.

Not only has “SUPER 8” restored my faith in J.J. Abrams as a Hollywood talent, I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. I really enjoyed. Abrams created a story that not featured mysterious happenings and an alien, but it also had plenty of human drama centering around Joe’s relationships with his recently widowed father and Alice Dainard; along with a delightful story arc featuring the group of friends’ attempt to film a movie. The interesting thing about “SUPER 8” is that all of the different story arcs in the movie – the personal dramas, the mystery surrounding the alien and Charles’ zombie movie – managed to connect seamlessly to form a first-rate movie. But more importantly, “SUPER 8” brought me back to the days of my childhood of the late 1970s – a time when many of my generation were first becoming fans of filmmakers like Spielberg and George Lucas.

Not only does “SUPER 8” has a first-rate story written by Abrams, it also featured a superb cast. I was surprised to discover that“SUPER 8” featured 15 year-old Joel Courtney’s film debut. Either Abrams has a talent for working with children, Courtney is a natural born film actor . . . or both. All I know is that his performance really knocked my socks off. I was especially impressed that he managed to hold his own with the likes of Kyle Chandler, who portrayed his father. Allie Fanning, who has more experience than Courtney, proved that acting talent obviously ran in her family (she is Dakota Fanning’s younger sister). She was very impressive as Alice Dainard, the daughter of the very man whom Joel’s dad hold responsible for his wife’s death. There were two scenes that really impressed me – her confession to Joe about the circumstances that led to his mother’s death; and her confrontation with her drunken father.

I have been fans of both Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard for a very long time. Chandler, who seemed to have a natural talent for portraying complex characters, displayed this talent again in his portrayal of Jackson Lamb, the deputy sheriff who finds himself as the leading law enforcement official following the disappearance of the sheriff. Chandler not only portrayed Jackson’s growing concern over the town’s strange incidents and disappearances with his usual skill, but also conveyed his character’s difficulties in dealing with the death of his wife and growing estrangement from his son. Eldard’s portrayal of Alice’s father, Louis Dainard, proved to be equally complex. He did an excellent job of conveying the character’s alcoholism, guilt over the death of Joe’s mother and his growing estrangement from daughter Alice. He and Fanning were absolutely superb in the scene that featured the explosive confrontation between father and daughter.

“SUPER 8” also featured first-rate supporting performances from another favorite of mine, Glynn Turman, who portrayed the kids’ biology teacher and the man responsible for releasing the alien from the U.S. Air Force train; and Noah Emmerich, who portrayed the controlling U.S. Air Force colonel, Nelec. But the best performances came from the group of kids who portrayed Joe and Alice’s friends and fellow film fans – Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Remy Thorne. They were absolutely terrific. And more importantly, their performances were not tainted with any “cutesy” quirks that have made some previous child actors rather unbearable. Nor did they act like adults in children’s bodies – a phenomenon of which I have become increasingly intolerant.

The look of “SUPER 8” really brought back memories of past Spielberg films such as “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND” and “E.T.”. And considering that the movie is produced by Spielberg, I hardly find that surprising. A small part of me suspects that “SUPER 8” is a homage to those particular works. Many critics and moviegoers have compared it to Spielberg’s films. The odd thing is that the storyline for “SUPER 8” reminded me more of the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” episode called (4.16) “Prey”. Although not alike, the storyline for both the movie and the television episode struck me as surprisingly similar.

Whatever people might say about “SUPER 8”, there is no doubt that I really enjoyed it. And once it leaves the movie theaters, I will have a hard time generating the patience to wait for its DVD release. Congratulations, Mr. Abrams. For once, you have really impressed me.

“THE KINGDOM” (2007) Review

“THE KINGDOM” (2007) Movie Review

Based upon a real life incident regarding a terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia (Riyadh Compound Bombings), ”THE KINGDOM” tells the story of an FBI Counterterrorist unit sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack upon an American compound in Saudi Arabia. Directed by Peter Berg (”FRIDAY NIGHTS LIGHTS”) and produced by Michael Mann, the movie starred Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman.

The main question is . . . did I like ”THE KINGDOM”? And the answer is yes. In fact, I had enjoyed it very much. It had plenty of suspense, drama and especially action that should not leave anyone disappointed. Most of the story seemed to be focused upon the theme of American cops forced to deal with their country’s own bureaucacy and with the hostility of foreign cops who resent the idea of Americans invading their turf. There have been other Hollywood crime dramas with similar themes. But in “THE KINGDOM”, this theme is intensified due to the story’s setting – namely Saudi Arabia and the Middle East culture and the current concern of terrorism. And I feel that screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Michael Mann did a great job.

The entire cast is first-rate . . . especially Jamie Foxx as FBI Agent Ronald Fleury and Ashraf Barhom as Col. Faris Al-Ghazi of the Saudi police, who managed to create a very credible relationship of two men whose different cultures would automatically make them enemies during this time in history. Yet slowly . . . surely, they managed to form a close friendship. My only problem with the casting was Chris Cooper. His character seemed a bit irrelevant and a little hammy at times.

About a month before the movie was released in the theaters, someone had written a review of the movie and considered it a potential for Academy Award nominations. To be honest, I do not know if I would agree with that assessment. As good as ”THE KINGDOM” was, I never saw it as the type of film that would earn any award nominations. At least of Oscar caliber. To me, it was simply a solid action-drama with a first-rate cast and good, solid writing. Worthy of an entertaining trip to your local movie theater or renting from Netflix.

“THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” (2008) Review

004c6ayq

”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” (2008)

Back in 1951, Robert Wise directed a science-fiction film about a humanoid alien visitor who comes to Earth with a warning. The film, starred Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. Fifty-seven years later, Scott Derrickson directed a remake of the classic that stars Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connolly.

Based upon Harry Bates’ short story, “Farewell to the Master”, this updated version of ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” ditched the Cold War theme and settled upon humanity’s environmental impact upon Earth. Another change in this latest version centered around the main character, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). In the 1951 version, Klaatu (portrayed by Michael Rennie) started as a “humane” and ended up as a slightly cold alien who threatens the humans during a United Nations conference, with “the big stick” – threatening annihilation if the nations refused to find a way to settle the Cold War. Klaatu experiences a reversal of characterization in this new version. He starts out as cold and tough, with very little hope for humanity. Due to his interactions with Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly), Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) and Helen’s stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith), Klaatu becomes more humane and compassionate over humanity’s situation.

I wish I could point more of the similarities and difficulties between the two versions. But if I must be honest, my memories of the 1951 version are not that sharp. It has never had much of an impact upon me. It just happened to be one of many decent movies that I did not find particularly mind boggling. Even when I became older. And If I must be honest, I can say the same about this version. In the end, ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” (2008) seemed like nothing more than a solid, yet entertaining science-fiction story with a message about a real life crisis in present-day Earth. Namely our endangered environment. Everything about this movie seemed solid – Scott Derrickson’s direction, David Scarpa’s screenplay and the cast led by Reeves and Connolly.

However, there were some exceptional standouts in both the cast and the crew. Jeffrey A. Okun’s visual special effects struck me as being impressive. I especially liked the updated design of Klaatu’s starship and the fact that it, along with Gort, was biologically based. As for the cast, I was impressed by two performers – young Jaden Smith, who portrayed Helen Benson’s stepson and Kyle Chandler as John Driscoll, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates). Smith did an excellent job of conveying young Jacob’s anger over his father’s death and resentment toward being “stuck” with his stepmother. And Chandler provided another example of his talent for portraying ambiguous and sometimes, dark characters with his portrayal of the frightened and desperate Driscoll.

Other than that, I found nothing really exceptional about this version of ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” . . . anymore than I did about the previous 1951 version. If you are looking for something exceptional, you will be disappointed. If you are simply looking for a solid story that is also entertaining, then ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” is your movie.