Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie Review: "Super 8"

By Skip Tucker
June 12, 2011
2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good movie year. I liked “Source Code” and “Thor,” and I really liked “X-Men: First Class.” But “Super 8” is (so far, anyway) the pick of the litter. Set in 1979, the story of a group of middle-schoolers (wasn’t it called “Junior High” back then?) making a film during their summer vacation is the kind of adolescent innocence we can all relate to and it's featured extraordinarily well in this film. It poignantly tells the story of childhood friendships, family conflicts and first loves.

The kids have decided to make a film about zombies using a Super 8 camera for a film festival coming up. They sneak out one night to film scenes at a train station when they witness an incredibly horrific train crash. The camera is knocked over but keeps filming, but it isn’t until halfway through the movie that we catch a glimpse of the dangerous cargo it captured. The kids flee the scene just as the military arrives and, not too long after that, the town starts experiencing some mighty strange goings-on, including objects and people disappearing.
The kids are mostly unknown newcomers and are brilliantly cast. None of them are any more obnoxious or precocious than necessary. Joel Courtney (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Henry Thomas from “E.T.”) plays the pint-sized hero Joe Lamb. Ryan Lee is the braces-sporting kid who loves things that explode, and Riley Griffiths is terrific as Charles, the portly writer-director of their movie who runs around screaming “Production value!” But it’s Elle Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) who demonstrates some serious acting chops. You’re going to see more of her.

It’s pretty obvious that writer-director J.J. Abrams is paying homage to Steven Spielberg here. The two men first met in the early 1980s, when Abrams was a teenager making his own Super 8 movies, and Spielberg was looking for someone to repair his 8 mm childhood films.

I can imagine the pitch writer-director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost,” “Fringe”) made to the studios.
“Okay, I got this great idea for a movie!”

“What’s it about?”

"Well, think ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ meets ‘Cloverfield’ meets ‘E.T.’ Oh yeah, and toss in m ‘The Goonies’ while you’re at it. And maybe some “War of the Worlds.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know…”

“Spielberg is producing it.”

“Done.”

Granted, there’s not much that’s original about this move, but it works, and it’s a blast to watch.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Review: "X-Men: First Class"

By Skip Tucker
June 6. 2011

Damn.

I thought “Thor” was good.

But I walked out of “X-Men: First Class” with two primary, gut feelings. The first was that I’d just seen my New Favorite Movie of the Year, and the second was that I had to pee – really bad! When a film is this action-packed, with chemistry working on almost all the levels, it’s certainly an exercise in bladder control (especially after downing a Turbo Chug of Diet Coke).

XMFC gives us the mutant back story, before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr became known as Professor X and Magneto. The movie opens with them as kids – Lensherr at Auschwitz and Xavier at his Westchester mansion (which would later become The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters). Fast forward to 1962. The US and USSR are gearing up for their nuclear pissing match over the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the mutants are being recruited by the CIA.

There’s a lot more gruesome violence than in the first three movies, and the action is intense – but the real super power here is the chemistry between the two stars. James McAvoy ("Wanted" - he was also Mr. Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe") as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") as Erik Lehnsherr both add an earnest weight to their roles, without taking it over the top. They’re playing mutants, but their performances are very human and relatable.

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw is actually surprisingly understated. He could have easily gone off the deep end into the Evil Bad Guy caricature, but he instead kept his performance quietly sinister. Jennifer Lawrence is also excellent, taking the Raven character from a scared, shy little girl to the ├╝ber “Mutant and Proud” Mystique.

The same can’t be said for January Jones ("Mad Men"). Her portrayal of Shaw’s sidekick and face candy Emma Frost was flat and uninspired. Riptide comes off like a second-rate magician, and Azazel sort of looks like a cross between Hellboy and Darth Maul.

My favorite scene in the movie was a cameo by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. That quick bit had me howling out loud.

X-Men fans will love it (although some of the purists are going to be pissy little bitches about some of the later characters in the comics showing up here), and even a lot of those new to the franchise will be roped in. The violence is much more explicit and brutal than in the first three films, so you might want to heed the PG-13 rating, but other than that, “X-Men: First Class” is a fun ride.