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

A real moviegeek or a tired old cynic?

Some of you have pointed out that in the last few months it seems like I was disappointed by most of the stuff I saw in the cinema.

This came just at the time when I was about to choose which film to review next, of the ones I’ve seen in the last couple of days: “The Roommate” (A thriller, which is usually a genre I love), “the extraordinary adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec” (By Luc Besson who made La Femme Nikita and leon, 2 of my favourites ever!), or “Hachi” (By the director of one of the film I love the most, What’s eating Gilbert Grape)… And you know what?! I really didn’t like any of them!

It made me think: when did I become such a cynic?

It is so unlike me… I’ve always been the positive one, the smiley person who tries to look for bright side…

I love going to the movies and there’s nothing I cherish more than loosing myself in a good flick.

Whenever I go and watch something, I’m always hoping this might be the one that makes me go back to being a kid, or makes me cry or laugh with tears in my eyes, or forget about my deadlines at work and my worries at home…

The fact that I have not liked a lot films recently is probably indicative of the way cinema is today. Most of these films are just products”: they are made by a committee of advertisers, or people who need to balance their books at the end of the year.

There are very few mavericks, or real storytellers out there… Most of them prefer to play it safe and give us what their recent surveys told them they should give us.

Or is it me who is just getting pickier and pickier? Why do I seem to be the only one who thought “The King’s Speech” was a pretty average film crowd pleaser?

Why didn’t I like Scream 4, when in fact it did exactly what the “tin” said?

Should I have got lost in the colours of “Rio”, forgetting about the fact that the story line was so damn predictable?

Why wasn’t I swept away by the quirkiness of “Rubber“?

Why was I so cold in front of that tragedy that was “Rabbit hole“?

Why couldn’t I just laugh watching “The Dilemma” while everybody else was in tears around me in the theatre?

Why couldn’t I just go with “The Adjustment Bureau“, instead of looking for all the plot holes?

Why wasn’t I enchanted by Submarine?

And why am I more terrorized than excited by the idea of the forthcoming Tintin movie by Spielberg (a director I love making a film about my ultimate childhood hero?) … Why am I so afraid I’ll be disappointed?

Am I growing old and just tired of movies or are there just fewer and fewer fresh good things our there?

Rubber – Review

Rubber (2010)  

Directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Jack PlotnickWings HauserRoxane Mesquida 

This is probably one of the weirdest film I have ever seen in quite a while… Unfortunately, not in a good way.

Rubber is on the surface a sort of a horror/parody that pays homage to those low-budget American horror films from the 1950s and 60s (the Blob just to mention a one), with a hint of Carpenter’s Christine from the 80s and even Eraserhead by David Lynch.  It has the feel and look of one of those road movies from the 70s and it even reminded me of  Duel by Spielberg (a killer truck in Spielberg’s film, just a tyre in this one) and Wall-E.

Sounds intriguing? Well, sadly all the similarities with the above mentioned films stops pretty soon and the realization that what you’re in fact watching is a rather dull film.

Rubber is the “story” (I use this term very loosely) of tyre (No, I haven’t misspelt the word: it is an actual tyre!) that comes to life and realizes it has psychic powers to make everything that comes in its way explode (bottles, animals, and humans!). Yes, it sounds absurd and it has the potential to be absolutely inspired! In fact, what the film is wants to be really about is more than a horror, but a satire about  “absurdity” and “randomness. It’s a film about the complicity and voyeurism of the audience itself.

The film is intercut between the tyre and a group of people watching the actual events taking place. They serve as a sort running commentary to the film , in the best classical tradition of a Greek Chorus. This part is clearly very heavy-handed, as it tries to rely too much on the dull dialogue to bring the message across (or its so-called “no reason” philosophy). It is certainly not very subtle and it the end it just comes out as too gimmicky and quite irritating. What could have been potentially a very good idea just ends up being too stretched and too arty (ironically, but not surprisingly, the director Quentin Dupieux is French! sorry I couldn’t resist mentioning that…): it is extremely smug and too self-congratulatory.

And it’s a shame because there is clearly some talent behind it all. The film has moments of inspired dark humour. It is very well shot and photographed, but it all gets diluted in the repetitiveness of its self-indulgence. (Even the hilarity of the animals and people exploding looses its impact after a while). As it is, it feels more like a student film…

But more importantly, aside from all that, it is just very very boring indeed (despite being only 82 minutes), so even if we get told that there is “no reason” for this film (literally we are told that, in a monologue at the front of the film), there is absolutely nothing  that makes it worth a feature-length venture. It should have stayed as a short film and it would probably would have been more effective.

4.5/10

Back to the Future – 25th Anniversary

It’s hard to write a review about a film that’s so much-loved and regarded by pretty much everyone as a modern classic, without sounding too obvious or even without upsetting somebody out there. So for the time being I might just start to talk about the first 5 minutes of this undisputed classic. More than a review, this is really just an excuse to talk about one of my favourite films. And what better excuse to do that if not its new release on Blu-Ray for its 25th anniversary?

So, inspire by the recent BBC “Film 2010” item, I am going to re-visit “Back to the Future” to try to understand what makes those films such undisputed classics.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Michael J. FoxChristopher LloydLea ThompsonCrispin GloverThomas F. Wilson

Right from the very beginning of this film, in fact from the very first shot, you can tell that we are in the hands of somebody who knows exactly what film-making is: somebody who knows that film-making is about telling a story with pictures. And that’s exactly what “Back to the Future” does. The very first shot of the film is a clear example of certain type of story-telling that we are going to find throughout the whole film: a single tracking shot, moving through all the various clocks and inventions in the room, will not only tell us everything we need to know about Doc Emmet Brown but also will set up lots of clues and issues which will later become pivotal moments in the story. But I’ll get into that a bit later.

We can tell straight away that this is going to be a film about “time” as the camera travels through all the various clocks in the room. We can tell that the person who works or lives here is must be a rather eccentric person, maybe an inventor or some sort of scientists. The pictures on the walls, the framed newspaper articles, the mad inventions. No need for dialogue: pictures tell a thousand words.

I love the subtlety of the details hinting at the various plot points that we’ll later find out in the film. This is so typical of Back to the future. it is something that permeates the whole film, right from the start. Watching this particular shot (well, in fact, the whole film) is even more enjoyable the second time around (…or third, or fourth… Or like me, the erm… not quite sure actually: I’ve lost the count a long time ago).

And so we hear the TV announcer talking about the missing plutonium, the clock with the little man hanging from one of the hands, the box of the plutonium itself at the end of this first very long track).

Even technically, the whole camera set-up is pretty impressive. Zemeckis is the master of these kind of one-take wonders and he’ll get them to perfection in later films such as “Contact” (with shots that go through windows or, like a particularly amazing one, through a mirror), but also “The Polar Express” and “Beowolf” where he was able to use the animation and create camera movements which would have been impossible on a real film.

As the film geek that I am, I’m always a bit annoyed by the cutaway of the dog’s food landing on Einstein’s bowl. Even though it works absolutely fine, it breaks the flow of that otherwise-perfect single take and it’s a shame. I’m sure they could have found another way to show us the bowl somewhere around the time when Marty comes in, keeping the one-take tracking shot unbroken.

Anyway, moving on, Michael J Fox, enters the scene. After the long first tracking shot, the pace gets a little bit faster in a succession of quick tight shots, as Marty plugs himself into the amplifier. Marty flies into the air, crashes into some shelves and finally reveals himself to the audience, as he takes off his ridiculously 80s glasses. What an entrance! I still remember watching this in a packed theatre and hearing the laughter from the audience at this point. The films really grabs you right from the start and it’s mainly because of Michael J Fox’s charm and his ability to be likeable (I can see why they decided to dump Eric Stoltz). And because of the deliberately slow first 20 minutes of the film, it is essential to have somebody like him as our main character. And we like him straight away. “Damn! I’m late for school!”. How can you not like him?

What this first shot manages to do is pretty much what the whole film does all the way through. It plants the seeds for things that will get resolved or explained later on, setting you up for a big payoff or simply just joke.

This is the strength  of “Back to the Future”: its perfectly constructed script. Nothing is there by mistake: if an uncle being in prison get quickly mentioned, it’s because later on we’ll see it as a baby inside a little cage. If  we see a poster of a black mayor on the side of a van, it’s because we will get to meet him as a young person later on. I could go on mentioning all the little details that pay off throughout the film and I’ll still be here tomorrow. There are just so many of them, just like those one liners which have become so much part of our popular culture:

“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” “Dad… Dad… Daddy-o” “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.””I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it” “Great Scott!” “EIGHTY-EIGHT MILES PER HOUR” “1.21 GIGAWATTS!!”, “The Flux Capacitor”, “Hey McFly”, “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?…” “Lou, get me a milk, chocolate!”, “My density has popped me to you.”, “Calvin Klein”

I mean… I could probably go on forever! In a way, the whole damn script is quotable today (In the BBC Film 2010 video above, they do a nice little montage of some of the famous one liners”).

I hear that the script is used all over America in lectures on how to write the perfect script. Whether it’s true or not, it makes perfect sense.

I’ll finish off the little “review” of the first 5 minutes of the film by mentioning the song that kicks in once Marty jumps on his skate :”The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. Watching it then, at the time, back in 1985 when the Back to the Future was released, this song gave you just the right amount of energy that the film needed at this point, to lead you to the next few scenes. Watching it today, it’s like a blast from the 80s, in the best sense of the terms. Nowadays it’s impossible not to associate this song with the film, but also, it’s impossible not to think about the film thinking about or even humming this song. And just like the chicken and egg never-ending question, it’s impossible to think of one without the other.

There’s obviously a lot more to talk about in this film (and its sequels too): not just the fabulous Christopher Lloyd and the rest of the great cast from Crispin Glover, to Lea Thompson, to Thomas F Wilson, but also the amazing action scenes, the witty humor, the sharp editing, the make up and special effects, the twists, the skate boards… and of course “johnny B Good”.

But for now, let’s just leave it to that. If there’s enough interest I might carry on examining the rest of the 3 films.

Let Me In – Review

Let me In (6.5/10)

Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins

Let me just start by saying that I don’t really see the point of any English Language remake, especially when the new film in question is so close to the original that you sometimes even forget which  one you’re actually watching.

Matt Reeves decided to play it safe, very safe if you ask me. In various interviews he’s been claiming that he never really wanted to make a vampire story, but more of a story about friendship between two people who both happened to be outcast. Well, yes fine, fair enough. But all this was in the original movie too!

There is absolutely nothing new in this film. No apparent reason to have a remake if not for the fact that people are just lazy and cannot be bothered to watch a subtitled film. So, let’s encourage laziness and remake exactly the same film without those annoying subtitles! And while we are there,  let’s add a little bit more blood and gore, that green tint that nowadays seems to be the only color of horror and let’s add more music, filling up every single second of silence in the film (I thought there was just way too much music!!).

I don’t really want to rubbish this film. It was after all very well handled, and at least they didn’t really make fools out of themselves. Let’s face it, it could have been so much worse. Thankfully the director and producers decided to be quite reverential towards the original source (the Swedish film itself was drawn from a novel, which is also one of the sources from this US version) and in the end didn’t really piss all over it.

My criticism is probably a bit biased because it starts from the premises that there was just no reason to remake it, especially just a couple of years after the first one. So let me try for a moment to pretend this is no remake (almost shot by shot in a few cases!) and let’s look at it as a piece of work by itself (it’s hard but I’ll try).

To be honest, it’s beautifully filmed. Every shot is carefully framed and composed, sometimes to the point that it becomes a bit too unreal. The idea of never showing the mother for example, seems a bit too forced in places… and let’s face it. It’s nothing new. Steven Spielberg had done it before in ET (and before that, Tom & Jerry Cartoons or even Peanuts). The parallel with Spielberg is interesting, since apparently Director Matt Reeves did have a meeting with Spielberg before he started filming. Spielberg gave him various tips about directing children (things like “Do listen to what they have to say and don’t force your idea about how they should do things), but also he was the one who suggested that both young actors should keep a diary in which they should write daily, in character.

Whatever Spielberg’s suggestions were, Matt Reeves did a really good job with the 2 kids. The performances from both Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz are very very good indeed! Little Chloe is clearly destined to greatness, as she has already shown her capabilities in “Kick Ass“, and after this one, we can probably even expect some nomination in the forthcoming award season.

So, to wrap it all up. It’s a competent film, without any single original idea in it. If you haven’t seen the original you might like it (or probably think it’s all a bit slow), but if, like me, you’ve seen and loved the original, then you’ll be left with a slightly sour taste in your mouth, wondering “Why… Why… Why?”. Well, probably because some American think it’s easier to spend 29 million dollars than to tell people that they should spend a couple of hours reading a bunch of subtitles in a good film.

6.5/10

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