Friday, June 10, 2011

TALES FROM TERMINAL CITY: Super 8

Hey all,

Last blog was January so I figured time to update! As some of you know, The Dedmontonian - me, has moved to the coast, making me the... Vancleaverian? I'll work on that. I moved out here for work and to also spread the good word of DEDfest, but don't worry kiddies. I will return for our yearly marathon of madness. And the added bonus? We (and our amazing friends at Metro Cinema) will be bringing you the bad-assed-ness from the historic Garneau Theatre this fall!  Once we make our dates final, we'll make an announcement. Stay peeled to www.dedfest.com for more details.

I figure with all the strangeness, wonderment, and sometimes the frustrations of a new city - especially a city with such roots in the entertainment and film industries - I'll have more fodder for this blog. I'll get into the pole dancing busker on Commercial Drive and the lingerie photoshoot in a store window in Gastown some other time (and those were just from yesterday afternoon!). I should start things off again... and appropriately... with a movie blog.



One of the niceties of living in a film-centric community is the chance to do things like, say, walk down the road and catch a midnight screening of J.J. Abrams' new film Super 8. The verdict? Well aside from my initial thought of "Spielberg with lens flare", Super 8 turned out to be a fun, yet flawed retro mashup of Mr. Spielberg's greatest hits (Spielberg was producer on Super 8 by the way).  If anything, the film is like a very entertaining cover band.

The plot? Essentially it's ET meets Cloverfield. Precocious kids making zombie flick, strange and nasty alien caught on film, even nastier government soldiers, themes of loss and heartfelt family drama - that pretty much sums it up. What worked about the film? Abrams, like Senor Spielbergo before him, nails the casting. These kids are naturals, especially the leads Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney. And the rest of the group are fun to watch. Abrams never paints these characters with broad strokes or falls prey to cliches. The fat kid isn't funny because he's portly, he's funny because he's a bossy director; the small kid is funny not because of his size but because of his pyromaniac tendencies; and so on. And these kids can hold their own alongside most of this year's adult action heroes. On that note, the grown ups in the film (Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as the respective dads) are great too.

I also dug the film's retro setting. Replace the CGI with some practical effects and drag the film print around the parking lot a few times and you could sell someone on this film actually being made in 1979. There are references to pot, disco, The Knack, etc., and for the geeks, we got nice mentions of Aurora Models, Dick Smith makeup, and Fangoria Magazine. Although quite a few critics have criticized Abrams for it, I never found those nostalgic touches too heavy handed.

What was heavy handed, and what nearly derailed the film for me, was the ending. Not plot-wise, but in the way Abrams trotted out the "core" of the film, so to speak, in a very hammy way. And strangely, I'm not quite sure why it felt cheeseball. Perhaps when Spielberg did it in the 70s and 80s, it felt kinda fresh in the context of an event movie. I think as well that in those iconic films, Spielberg had been drawing on his own experiences and influence to give audiences that extra depth - there just seemed to be that something personal in his films. Abrams seems to be drawing on his memories of Spielberg's influences and experiences rather than infusing the film with his own.

And that is what Super 8 feels like: a photocopy of a Spielberg film. A very entertaining and enjoyable copy, but a photocopy nonetheless. Despite that, and because we've had more than enough "event" films over the past few years that had no heart or character at all (looking at YOU Transformers), I'd gladly take a summer movie that dares to put story and character over spectacle any day.

Oh and once last thing, you nancies that like to leave as soon as the credits roll? Stick around to see the finished Super 8 zombie film!

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