Monday, June 20, 2011

Michael's Review of Super 8

Stephen Speilberg does not make films anymore, he just pays for them. You might be surprised to hear this as you have no doubt seen his name attached to lots of movies lately. Movies like Super 8. They get a lot of undeserved attention for their hot-shot directors (J.J. Abrams) and Executive Producers who seem eager to throw scads of money at anything involving big, squishy aliens or World War II. It is marketing masquerading as film making  and I for one am getting tired of the prepubescent, Ritalin-dependent boys who slog this crap into theaters all summer long. Mr. Speilberg, would you please put down the G.I. Joe action figures and get to work on Schindler's List 2 or something?

This movie starts with a train wreck, which is appropriate because that is what you will be witnessing for the next 90 minutes. It's 1979 and a bunch of over-acting kid stereotypes are trying to make a zombie movie for fun and profit. It doesn't really matter as it's just an obvious plot device to get things shuffling along. While filming a scene out at some abandoned train station, they inadvertently record the aforementioned derailment.  Does a train derailment usually involve giant explosions that hurl flaming boxcars hundreds of feet in the air for twenty minutes? I'm no locomotive expert or anything, but my guess is no. No it doesn't.

Well, this one does and it of course releases an alien/monster/dinosaur/Justin Beiber's Ego from its otherwise impenetrable prison of a fucking train car. Luckily, everyone survives. Including the guy that caused the whole thing by driving his pickup truck head-on into the train. Yes, you read that right. He lives. At this point I started checking my watch and idly wondering if I was going to get out of the theater in time to catch the next Game of Thrones episode.

You know what happens next. You have seen this movie before back when it was called E.T. and The Goonies. Love interest gets captured. Local sheriff takes on the evil Federal Authorities who are trying to cover it all up. Random corner store clerk gets eaten. Yadda-yadda-fucking-yadda. No cliche is left untapped and no family dog is left unmolested. The motivations of the alien monster thingy are a bit of a mixed message. Midway through the second act we are told that it doesn't really want to hurt anybody, it just wants to get home. A few scenes later we see it gnawing on a human leg in its underground lair full of abducted townsfolk. Building spaceships is hard work I guess, and an alien has to make due if there are no Reese's Pieces handy.

There are two little bright spots amid all the CGI buffoonery. The first is the performance by Dakota Fanning's little sister, Elle. There are some serious acting chops in that family and I hope she finds herself a better agent before she is 25 and co-starring in Smurfs 2 alongside Mel Gibson. The second is a subplot involving the accidental death of a boy's mother at a local factory. They could have done without all the alien nonsense and just made a movie about that. It was engaging and for a moment I actually felt something for one of these otherwise two-dimensional characters.

Anyone who was born in the 70s might get a twinge of nostalgia for all the sets and trappings of this small town America. The set design and cinematography do evoke this era wonderfully. The story however, evokes feelings of your first Public School dance in the church basement; Sickening anticipation followed by sweaty palms and hollow resentment. I couldn't ask 12-year old Melissa Wray for my dignity back after she laughed at me when I stepped on her feet during the slow song, but I AM writing Stephen Speilberg to ask for my $8.00 back. Small victories.

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