Friday, June 10, 2011

SUPER 8 review: She said

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler
Synopsis: After witnessing a train crash, a group of friends begin investigating weird happenings in their small Ohio town.

SUPER 8 is not your standard summer popcorn movie, monster movie, scary movie..actually it's not like most movies released nowadays. It's big in scope, yet still feels intimate and heartfelt. On the heels of Spielberg's legacy, director J.J. Abrams has taken his reigns as an engaging storyteller and a director with a clear vision and proves once again his ability to make the supernatural feel natural, while becoming a master of the craft, lens glare and all.

Initially, we're introduced to our young hero, Joe (Courtney), as a shy young boy with a struggling relationship to his depressed and workaholic father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Chandler). Joe has a tight group of buds who get together and make zombie movies in their spare time. By the looks of them, they aren't the coolest kids in school, and don't seem to care because they have each other. They all play their parts: there's the bossy, perfectionist director, the actor, the background filler, and the kid who's obsessed with fire and explosives (we all know one...or we were that kid). They enlist the help of the wonderful and poignant Alice (Elle Fanning) because their zombie movie needs a wife.

They sneak out to film a scene and witness a train crash in a breath-taking sequence. Something isn't right after the crash. The kids initially agree they need to forget it, but soon they become too entwined in the mystery. The strength of the film isn't the story because it's one we've seen before. The strength is the camaraderie and interactions between the relative unknown child actors. I don't know how much was scripted or improv because the dialogue felt so natural, it brought me back to listening to my brothers argue and talk growing up. Too many times in movies nowadays, the dialogue always seems so fake because of heightened jargon or awkward deliveries. But I got more enjoyment at the kids' interactions than anything else. Abrams does an impeccable job bringing out and highlighting the innocence and wonderment of adolescence. Every scene with the gang, even during a dangerous situation, brings a lighthearted tone to the otherwise ominous situation.

While the first act is nearly flawless with the perfect combination of humor, character moments, mystery, and action, the second act drags a bit when the predictable plot points are hit. Instead of continuing to see the mystery through our gang's eyes, we get more adult interactions with Deputy Lamb getting little to no information from military mystery man Nelec (Noah Emmerich). They're the standard characters of a small-town guy standing up for the locals versus the military man just following orders. These moments have to happen to move the characters along, but it just slows the momentum and focus that has been built to that point. They almost come to the forefront of the movie, and for a moment, we almost forget the bigger situation.

Even with my complaints, SUPER 8 breaks the summer mold of prequels, super-hero movies, and talking cars. It's fun every now and again to go to the movies and just get lost in the world the director creates. With SUPER 8, we're not bogged down by super famous faces or scene after scene of over the top visual effects. There's just enough mix of engaging visuals and heart-felt performances to make this movie kind of wonderful.

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