Super 8 – Review

Super 8 (2011)  

Director/Writer: J.J. Abrams Stars: Elle FanningAmanda MichalkKyle ChandlerRiley GriffithsGabriel Basso

To say that I couldn’t wait to see this movie is an understatement: ever since the trailer was released a few months ago “Super 8” smelled like the best Spielberg with whom I’ve been growing up during my childhood: it looked like a mixture of E.T, The Goonies, Poltergeist, Gremlins and all those Spielberg classics from the early 80s I used to love, but also it had something from Stand by Me, or It (a terrible movie but a great book).

All the elements seemed to be there: the teens friends, the suburban environment, the secrets “grown-ups” are not supposed to know about, the bicycles, the fat kid, the bad US army, the single parents, even the same time period (1979) and the same style of cinematography (night-time flares on the lens) and big soundtrack (a rousing score, mixed in with gentle and intimate piano cues).

But are all those elements enough to reach the perfection of films like E.T.- The Extra-Terrestrial? If you were cooking from a recipes book and you had all the right ingredients, would you still get it the cake right? You can easily guess the answer.

J.J. Abrams is certainly a talented man. His TV credentials are some of the most solid ones of the last decade (Alias, Lost, Fringe), his Mission: Impossible III brought some credibility back to the franchise (and some pretty amazing action sequences), his Star Trek was not only very reverent to the original but also engaging enough for the newbie injecting some new energy on a series which was on the verge to becoming just about OK for the Trekkies out there.

Unfortunately with “Super 8” that energy seems to have faded away a little. Despite all the good intentions and this being a sort of love letter to the Spielberg he too admired, J.J. hasn’t been able to replicate that sense of wonder and discovery, nor the exciting action and edge-of-the-seat thrills of those early classics. There are some really good scenes in the first act between all the kids (and some very good acting!) but after a while it all felt too much by-the-book and gave us nothing new or unexpected.

It’s as if everything was a bit too calculated and clinical, even its sincerity and honesty and its well-observed sense of nostalgia (not just for the era, but for a certain kind of film-making) was not enough and never really went beyond the ovbious clichés you would expect from this sort of story. The kids did everything they were supposed to, the army was bad as you would expect and it all worked as a well-oiled-machine.

Even its film-making style, though handsomely made,  wanted to ape those 80s classics so much that it in the end it forgot to give us the kind of magic  those films were really great at: in the end I can’t quite point out a single memorable “cinematic” imagery or moment out of “super 8” (there was definitely no bike flying over the moon, nor mash potatoes shaped like a mountain but not even some classic line like “they’re here….!”).

There was really nothing massively wrong with Super 8 (the film is well done, well acted, is even under two hours and I’m sure it will please most of the crowds out there), but sadly there was also nothing original or surprising either: even the big monster, so much teased throughout the whole movie, once it’s finally revealed cannot be anything else but disappointing. But most crucially the film seemed to lack that humour films like Stand by me or even the Goonies had.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but from a duo like Abrams and Spielberg I wanted something a bit more than just a half life-less homage.

Once again, I’m not saying that “Super 8” is bad (in fact I wish all the summer blockbusters were as honest, pure and simple like this one: thankfully this was a film that cared about its characters more than just explosions and one-liners!!), but despite loving its intentions and its heart, and its style, I couldn’t quite love it as a film… Or maybe I just wanted to like it too much…

6.5/10

If you liked this, you might be interested in reading about my review of STAND BY ME or my post A REAL MOVIEGEEK or a TIRED OLD CINIC

Stand By Me – 25th Anniversary Blu-ray – Review

Stand By Me (1986) 

Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Wil WheatonRiver PhoenixCorey FeldmanJerry O’ConnellKiefer SutherlandRichard Dreyfuss.

25th years after its released a new brand remastered version with a great PiP commentary comes out on Blu-Ray tomorrow.

I find incredibly difficult to review “Stand By Me” without being completely biased and detached, the way a real film critic should be. But then again, I am not a real film critic, I’m just a film lover (and a geek, of course!) and most of the time my response to a film is an emotional one: if it makes me laugh or cry or think then it means that it worked on me; but if it makes me laugh and cry and think, then there is something more to it too!

Basically let me just tell you upfront: I adore this film!

The word classic gets over-used these days. Any anniversary is an excuse to re-release any piece of junk that’s more than 20 years old. Most of those films carry that cheesy sense of nostalgia for the 80s, and that’s sometimes enough for them to appropriate a cult status. But when you look at them closely, you’ll find that they have aged quite badly, either technically (terrible matte paintings, visual effects or synthesized music) or stylistically (Their look, the clothes and the hairstyles people are wearing and the corny dialogue nobody seemed to mind so much at the time).

However “Stand by me” has the advantage of being a period piece (It is set in 1959) and its simple, subtle and honest depiction of the 60s not only hides away the cheesiness of the 80s but also adds a sense of timelessness. The film is 25 years old, but it could just as well be 35 or 45 … and yet it still relates all of us as if it was made yesterday…

I loved it at the time, for its sheer sense of fun, adventure and mischief and I love it today for its poignant look at the way we were…

It’s the ultimate coming of age story, set in the hazy, warm, sunny and dreamy landscape of Oregon, as 4 friends set out on a journey along the railway tracks, looking for the body of a missing boy.

The film is adapted by a short novel by Stephen King, from the book “Four Seasons” (The Shawshank Redemption was also adapted from the same book) and like all the best tales from King, finds its strength in the way the characters are fleshed out: rarely have teenagers so very well depicted like in “Stand by Me”. The contrast between the way they try to act as adults in front of each other, by smoking or swearing (“Go get the food, you morphodite”) and the way they reveal their real age by talking about the most childish and mundane things and yet making them sound profound and meaningful (MightyMouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy!).

Behind all that, there’s a pure, sincere and real sense of friendship that permeates the whole film.

That line at the end on that computer screen “I never had friends like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” resonates in all of us and it’s one of the most poignant and truthful line I can remember in any film.

The interaction between the four young actors is the real power of “Stand By Me”: never for a moment you think they might be acting. Will Wheaton’s take as the sensitive Gordie is impeccable. The way he pauses before delivering his lines, how he smiles and looks at his best friends, how he proudly tells them the story of Lard-Ass, how he breaks down into tears at the sudden realization that his parents might hate him and finally how coldly threatens Kiefer Sutherland‘s terrifying bully, without even flinching (suck my fat one, you cheap die store hood!).

Both Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell are also spot on in their roles, bringing not only that amount of comic relief needed but also that sense of playfulness that kids at that age have (I don’t shut up I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!)

But ultimately it’s River Phoenix that steals the show. The poignancy and sincerity he brings to the role of Chris Chambers is even more enhanced today by the ending of the film and as we see him fading away in the distance and we’re just left with a sour taste of what an incredible actor he could have become.

Beautifully photographed, as seen from the dreamy eyes of an adult (in this case Richard Dreyfuss) who’s obviously very fond of those memories, the film is also accompanied by the most wonderful soundtrack, a mixture of hits from the time, perfectly integrated into the film (like the moment the kids break into signing “lollipop“) and the actual score made up with a subtle slowed down version of the “Stand By Me” itself by Ben E.King

This film is a real little gem , a small masterpiece, dare_I-say, that works because of its charming and honest simplicity. You could easily argue against some of the clichés and the non-very-subtle depiction of Gordie’s family and the ever-too-perfect-dead-older-brother or obvious lines like “The town seemed different: smaller“, but it would be like arguing that Snow-White is a two-dimensional character, or that Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the cuckoos’ Nest” is an unbelievable bitch: basically it would be pointless.

Reiner’s  film is a true undeniable classic, a nostalgic look at the way we were, in a time of innocence when friendship really meant something and when the most important question was “if Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?

9.5/10

If you Agree, or disagree, do let me know and leave me a message.

If you enjoy this review, do leave a message (… Actually I guess you should leave one even if you didn’t…)

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