Super 8

June 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

J.J. Abrams has recently become a mini-Spielberg, a guy he unabashedly worships as a hero and influence for his own films. But there’s something that Spielberg has had for a long time that Abrams lacks, and that’s vision. Nothing is more apparent in that criticism of Abrams than his new film in which he wrote and directed, called “Super 8′. He can basically thank screenwriters like Chris Columbus for a lot of the film’s first act, as he took most of it from movies like “The Goonies” or “Explorers” or any kids movie from the 80’s. The film centers around a group of kids led by Joe Lamb (played very well by newcomer Joel Courtney) who are trying to make a movie for an amateur film festival. There are some nice set ups for this premise as the director, Charles (Riley Griffiths) barks orders to everyone and takes immense joy in reading about film and storytelling, and wants to flesh out his characters and scenes, and loves saying the word “mint” and “production value”. Joe is the make-up artist and he’s overjoyed to know that they’ve cast a girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), that he likes. She starts to like him as well, and the two form a bond. All of this sounds like it’s going to be a fun little summer movie about kids wanting to make a movie. But there’s a caveat.

While they’re shooting a scene in front of a train, a pick up truck suddenly runs right into the train, and causes a massive wreck. The kids are okay, but the train and the pick up truck are dismantled. Surprisingly (and I use the word derisively) the driver of the truck is still alive, and is one of their teachers, who warns them about things to come. They find some strange little objects from the train, and then the military comes in and takes over. Then, the whole town begins to experience strange happenings as their power goes out, the sherrif goes missing, and other wild things occur while the ubiquitous military starts to impose their presence more and more. Meanwhile, the kids are still trying to make their movie, but they’re scared about what they know and what the military knows they know. Not to mention, they’re scared about whatever the military is supposed to be protecting them from.

There’s a subplot that’s supposed to bring a human element to the film in which Joe has lost his mother. We have no idea what kind of relationship he had with her or why that’s important to the “reveal” about what they have discovered as a result of the train wreck, and it seems very clunky and slows down the pace of the film in scenes where he’s watching old home movies of him as a baby and her taking care of him. While I know this is supposed to be poignant–and the performances during these scenes, especially by Elle Fanning are very nicely handled–the drama seems out of place in that it really doesn’t enhance anything about the direction of the plot nor does it really flesh out the characters. We never really understand the family element of the film because they don’t give the story enough life or time to develop anything. Joe’s father is an estranged man, but we’re not really sure why, nor do we understand why he can’t relate to his son. There’s a scene where he wants to send Joe to a baseball camp but that’s never mentioned again. Alice’s father is an alcoholic who is the bane of Joe’s dad’s existence because he was the guy who was supposed to be on the shift that his wife took that ultimately got her killed (she died in an accident at a warehouse). We’re not even sure how she died. All of these hinted-at elements just aren’t enough for the arc to stand on its own legs, and we’re bogged down so much toward the end with special effects and a climax that is so routine and predictable, you could easily get up and leave and know exactly how it ends, so it just seems disjointed.

The kids are very charismatic but their story arc of making their movie doesn’t really go anywhere either, and their characterizations don’t have any uniqueness in the way that “The Goonies” did. There’s a kid who likes to light firecrackers, but that’s never really explored. It’s offered as comic relief and then a cheap payoff in the film’s third act. The director, Charles, admits he wanted to cast Alice because he liked her and he was jealous of Joe liking her, but there’s no payoff in that storyline either. Even them capturing something they’re not supposed to doesn’t really have a huge impact on them because the military never really seeks them out. They really don’t have much at stake at all, except knowing something that’s eventually going to be revealed to everyone in town anyway.

The biggest problem I have with this film, though, is that it’s so by-the-book and standard, it just feels like you’re being taken through a re-run of older, better movies. It’s part “Close Encounters”, part “Jaws”, part “Goonies”, part “Stand By Me”, part “E.T.” and because it’s this Frankenstein monster cut up of all of them, it comes off as just shoddy. Whereas movies like “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me” actually explore the characters and have them relate to each other, this movie just uses the kids ultimately as props and throw in some standard talking scenes–but nothing is really revealed about them as people.

There’s nothing special about this movie and I guess that’s what’s let me down the most. Much like “Cloverfield”, this movie had promise and it seemed to want to be a little different. But in the end it’s nothing but an average summer action flick that has nice moments, but not enough to make it a good movie. Instead of a work of art, it’s pre-packaged leftovers.

My rating: :(

Fringe (FOX)

September 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Entertainment

FOX, Tuesdays @ 8:00pm CT

Encore of Pilot Broadcast: Sunday, September 14th, 7:00pm CT

Put “Lost”, “Alias”, and “X-Files” in a blender, and this is pretty much what you get, with less endearing main characters and a fairly thin plot for an hour and a half long pilot.

The first five minutes were pretty mesmerizing. It felt very similar to when I watched the first episode of “Lost”; just completely gripped by the action. And guess what? This also begins on an airplane.

A mysterious skin disease infects and disintegrates an entire commercial airliner in Germany, and no one is left alive. The FBI is brought in, and pretty soon, they’re tracking an elusive man who may have had something to do with it. At first considered a terrorist plot, it seems this goes deeper. The main character, Olivia, finds that a doctor who used to conduct controversial experiments back in the 70’s (everything happened back in the 70’s!), may also have some insight into this since he was involved with what is known as “fringe science”. For those who don’t know, “fringe science” is anything involving paranormal, mind control, otherwise known as science fiction. The only problem is that he’s in a mental institution, and can only be visited by immediate family. His only living kindred is his son, who is in Iraq wheeling and dealing, and he’s not exactly interested in helping dear old dad out.

He comes around, and the three of them try and figure out what exactly is going on with this strange skin reaction that seems to make it completely transparent and induces some graphic results. The main interest for Olivia also involves her boyfriend, also with the FBI, who has been infected after coming into close encounters with the elusive man they’d been chasing to get answers, and he has a short time to live.

As the plot develops further, there are more layers to the story, as the man is eventually caught, and killed by Olivia’s boyfriend John for some unknown reason, and that leaves more questions than answers as it seems he has double crossed them? Well, of course the end of the show doesn’t really answer anything–I mean, it’s science fiction right?

The problem I had with this pilot, unlike “Lost” or “The X-Files”, was that it didn’t establish the characters nor a plot convincingly enough to keep me interested in seeing it again. While there were some very interesting moments, it all seemed borrowed–no, that’s too kind a word to use for J.J. Abrams now–stolen, from those shows previously mentioned. And, since he blatantly said he was using elements from “The Twilight Zone” and “Altered States”, I’ll say he stole from them too. And the thing is, it wasn’t even cleverly stolen.

All of the characters are very familiar and very predictable. The “insane” doctor has moments of brilliance followed by moments of random, rambling incoherence that I suppose is used as some sort of comic device. To me it falls flat, and is very patronizing, like it was focus grouped to middle aged housewives who laugh at animated cleaning products in commercials and still thinks anything involving a dog instantly makes it cute and buyable.

Besides the first five minutes of the pilot, “Fringe” settles into your average, garden variety “science fiction” show, and I use thequotations for a purpose: that it’s not really science fiction. It’s just what a couple of post Film student grads found on Wikipedia, thought it was cool, and decided to scribe a 2 hour show about it. Instead, in this case, it’s three writers who all have pretty reputable backgrounds in the TV/film industry, and decided to cash in on TV’s latest craze to create shows that look science fictiony, have a hot chick as a lead, have inexplicable-but-cool things happen, and hope that people’s attention spans won’t catch up to how boring, inane, and lackadaisical it is.

JJ–you’re no Rod Serling. And at this point, I’d say you’re not even Chris Carter. “Fringe” is hardly that. It’s as run of the mill as you can get.

My rating: 😕