DID YOU READ

“Super 8,” Reviewed

“Super 8,” Reviewed (photo)

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J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” really is like a child’s Super 8 film, with all the good and bad that that comparison suggests. It’s ambitious and unfocused, imaginative and contrived. It’s flawed, but it’s also really close to being a truly wonderful film. There were parts that I absolutely adored. And there were parts I borderline hated.

The film itself is almost as bifurcated as my reaction. Maybe that’s part of the problem. It begins, with incredible promise, as the story of a group of young teenagers let loose on their small Ohio town for summer vacation in 1979. They’re making a Super 8 movie about a cop investigating a series of zombie murders: Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the director. Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the lead actor. Cary (Ryan Lee) is the pyromaniac and pyrotechnics expert. And Joe (Joel Courtney), whose father Jack (Kyle Chandler) is a deputy sheriff in town, does the sound, makeup, and models. Joe’s mother died a few months earlier in a mill accident, leaving Jack an emotional wreck and leaving Joe with his friends, their movie, and not much else.

Charles, perhaps voicing the fears of Abrams himself, worries his movie might be too heavy on special effects and too light on characters you really care about, so he writes a part for the cop’s wife and casts Alice (Elle Fanning). Alice is pretty and a natural, untrained actor. Her entrance into this group previously populated only by boys shakes things up in the best way possible. The scenes between the kids as they work on their movie in cluttered bedrooms and noisy diners are full of charm and authenticity. This is one half of the film.

The other half begins when the group is out filming at the train station one night as a train comes hurtling down the tracks. “Production values!” Charles yells, and they all scramble into position. As they’re shooting, a truck drives into the path of the train and derails it in a massive special effects sequence. Suddenly the pressures and complications of adulthood — or maybe just the demands of large-scale mainstream filmmaking — have invaded the kids’ previously humdrum lives. Now they can’t just focus on their little film; they’ve got to also contend with a massive government conspiracy and an escaped passenger from the train whose size and strength suggests he’s not from Ohio. The metaphor’s right there for anyone who wants to see it: the director trying to make a movie about life as it’s lived who has to throw in some aliens too just to make it commercial.

“Super 8” was co-produced by Steven Spielberg, whose own movies about children, aliens, and the American suburbs inspired Abrams’ screenplay as much as the director’s own filmmaking projects as a youth. And “Super 8” is full of Spielberg homages in general, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” homages in particular, right down to the particular style of the lens flares that frequently flash onscreen (by the way, lens flare in an underground cave in the middle of a blackout? That just doesn’t make any sense). But where Abrams has certainly aped the look, feel, and milieu of early Spielberg, he missed one crucial aspect. Particularly during that period of his career, Spielberg was the unparalleled master of meshing epic stories with minute character studies. “Jaws,” “Close Encounters, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” these movies are near-perfect blends of big-scale narrative and small-scale humanity. Abrams has the potential for all of that but he never quite reconciles his two halves — the kids and their movie, the alien on the loose — properly. He dives deep into the characters in the first act, then practically forgets about them as he crams in as many scary alien attacks as possible. As a result, when he suddenly returns to the characters in between the beats of his sci-fi spectacular finale, it feels forced instead of heartwarming. In some ways, Abrams’ last film, “Star Trek,” which blended action and character and heart more successfully, is a more Spielbergian film than “Super 8.”

I think I’d be less bothered by the alien scenes if I was more interested in the alien. Abrams loves to talk about his “mystery box” theory of moviemaking, and how the more you withhold something from the audience, the more they’re interested in seeing it. That approach certainly jives with Spielberg, who turned a crappy animatronic shark into a lurking, unseen menace and turned “Jaws” into a classic. Of course, Spielberg found a narrative-motivated reason to keep the shark off-screen — the humans are above the water in a boat and can’t see Jaws — while Abrams basically just sticks the camera in the most obstructed angle in any scene to cover his monster. When we finally do see the “Super 8” alien, he’s just not impressive enough to justify the lengths Abrams goes to hide him.

Like most Spielberg classics, “Super 8” preaches a moral of childhood innocence triumphing over adult cynicism. But the cynic in me can’t help but feel like a truly great film about kids and their dreams got buried here underneath a fairly formulaic monster movie. When Abrams occasionally gives the alien muckety-muck a rest, the kids are terrific, and Elle Fanning in particular delivers a very moving performance. The movie doesn’t quite go off the rails along with that mysterious train, but it’s pretty close.

Note: The best part of “Super 8” comes during the closing credits. Don’t leave the theater until you see it. And after you see it, tell us what you thought of it! Leave us some comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

via GIPHY

It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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