Thursday, June 9, 2011

Super 8: Pretty Good


Well, OK! I'll go! It's been a big week for the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. I was kind of curious if it was all online or if it translated to any more actual business.

Monday I picked up a link to their latest pre-movie announcement on YouTube. I was about the 350th viewer. It was funny so I put it on Twitter.

 Barbara Tomlinson 

Apparently everybody else put it on Twitter too, and it exploded on Reddit, and then it went mainstream and ended up on CNN and everywhere else. They only show this before R-rated movies though, so I didn't see it on the big screen today. (Uncensored means don't play this on speakers during nap time at play school.)

So that's the deal with the Alamo. Tim League has a new video blog post about the viral video. In less than a week it has the same number of views as my rocket video in a year. (Which people are still viewing. I got a new comment just a minute ago: FAKE FAKE FAKE FAKE! its so not natural the only option is that the video is FAKE!)

OK, so back to the movie. I checked Rotten Tomatoes before I bought my ticket to see what the deal is on this thing. Super 8, written and directed by JJ Abrams and produced by Steven Speilberg. There's lots of buzz, 88% Fresh by reviews and 92% of people want to see it. I seemed to see the words "nostalgia" and "sentimental" a lot in the reviews, so I was a bit worried it would be sappy. But I also read "steel mine" in one review and saw that the main character's mother is killed in a construction accident in another. There are no steel mines. That's idiotic. That'd be like a toaster mine. You make steel, you don't mine it. In the opening scene it was obvious as hell it was a steel MILL where a man was changing the "No Accidents in ___ Days" sign and it served as a stark reminder that Rex Reed is an idiot. I should just watch the damn movie. Within the next 5 minutes somebody said the kid's mother was crushed by an I-beam, which may be where the construction accident mistake came from in the other review, but I think she was moving it around after they manufactured it, not building something out of it. So the movie guy got it right and reviewers hosed it up. Way to go, dragging down the least common denominator, guys. That's all we need.

So right off the bat the dialog between the young lead characters was really good. They were standing around a table of food after the funeral for Joe's mother. There was the potential for unpleasant bickering but they turned it around beautifully. I was so worried it was going to be another Goonies, with kids just yelling over each other all the time. I cannot STAND that! But they did a good job at not being annoying. They kept it just at the line where the amount of freaking out some of them were doing was held in check by the ones that kept it together. One character had the unfortunate nervous reaction of throwing up. It turns out I don't mind this nearly as much as I thought I would. Throwing up is WAY better than yelling and flailing around. They did a fine job of incorporating vomit in an action scene. Nobody really paid attention to it and they kept the destination off camera.

Back to the plot, they flash forward from that snowy funeral day to the last day of school a few months later. Time for the kids to finish making Charles's zombie picture shot on Super 8 film. Charles has decided to add a female lead to make you care more about the protagonist. Alice leaves all the middle school boys stunned by her acting abilities. It was actually meta-artistic that the director got us to believe that she was actually that middle school girl, then she was playing the wife of the detective on the train platform. And the other actor had to play a boy playing a not-very-good actor. It's all very meta, but so well done you don't even realize it at the time. And where the other characters could have made a big deal out of how amazing Alice was in that rehearsal they compose themselves quickly and give middle-schooler style remarks, but the camera work made it very obvious they were impressed. All of them fell in love with her on the spot, if they weren't already. Then the action starts. A train is coming. Charles decides to film the scene with the train going by. He calls it "production value."

Then you are presented with the most gratuitous train wreck I've ever seen. The physics is utterly preposterous. The kids all run away but they don't run AWAY, like perpendicular to the track. They all seem to run parallel to the track, even the same direction as the train, which is like running straight towards the target at the end of a shooting range. Like the pyromaniac character, Cary, says, there were some really great explosions. I wish I could say it was so not natural it looked FAKE! FAKE! FAKE! but what do I know about train wrecks? I mean, it WAS fake so they're going to go to extra trouble to pick out anything that looks fake and make it AWESOME instead so we won't care. Well, I didn't care about tanks shooting off their train cars or any of that stuff but the kids running away the wrong direction bothered me. Apparently this little town has some special rules. You can run along side flying debris and be fine and there is apparently some kind of moratorium on deceleration and it's deleterious effects on the human body.

My favorite character has to be Cary, the one obsessed with fireworks. He is just as cool under pressure as a guy ought to be who rolls his own M-80s. I do think he could stand to wear some goggles and ear plugs. If any of this was real the whole rest of the movie would have just been people going WHAT?!

Instead you get all the way to the end and then go, "What?" It's like they dragged out this monster stuff so long they ran out of time and then the producers told JJ Abrams to zip up that happy ending and to hell with the explanation for the mechanical stuff. They had some X-Men software at Industrial Light and Magic that they wanted to use over again, I just know it. I bet they reassured JJ Abrams it would all make sense. Well maybe not. Maybe they just said it would look cool. The latest metal-flying-through-the-air-and-sticking-to stuff effects. I think somebody ought to take away their Wooly Willy after this and just not let them play with that anymore. They have gone too far. Magnetism is not for your amusement, Hollywood. You're ruining it.

Despite that it was a pretty good movie. Not too annoying, safe for people who don't like cursing or sex. You could take a pre-teen to it.

Now about that nostalgia and sentiment the other reviewers talked about. Who was it supposed to be nostalgic FOR? The reviewers? JJ Abrams? It was set in 1979 but it wasn't overly stylized to evoke that time. When they picked music from the time it was like The Cars Bye Bye Love, not something really awful like any of the disco stuff they could've used. So since it strikes me as a movie for children I don't really see how it would be nostalgic for them. They weren't there. I was there but it didn't feel like a trip down memory lane. Maybe it's because I'm not from Ohio and none of that stuff really seemed familiar to me.

So Super 8. Decent way to spend a hot summer afternoon with a Guinness. Let me know if anybody else hears the smoke monster from LOST in this thing.

Update: From Tim League at the Alamo Drafthouse. I did not get this presentation yesterday.

1 comment:

  1. Good review on Super 8. I saw it in an IMAX today (my dinky little town actually has an IMAX - I know - it's weird!) because it was only showing on the IMAX screen today.

    I liked it, felt like the whole train wreck was yet another overblown CG impossibility. The kids running along with the train made me step out of the moviegoing experience and say, "What?!!!"

    Pacing was good, the kids were good and believable too. The language was pretty strong, I thought, and not at all appropriate for pre-teens though, mostly because of one major use of f*** and a few repeated uses of a couple of others. But fine for teens, in my opinion.

    The ending: my thought was almost word for word what you wrote. It was as if they just ran out of time or money, or both and said, "Ok, we gotta stop shooting, so wrap it up here!" Lame.

    My last comment would be a spoiler so I won't put it here, but it is a disappointment as far as a major non-human character goes.

    I'll go see it again, this time on a smaller screen, because honestly, I think it will look better on a smaller screen anyway, and I'd like to catch some things again.