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“Super 8”—Orion’s Take

June 27, 2011 3 comments

Clover is a jaded, sarcastic, teenage-minded, reviewer when it comes to movies about relationships: if there is a movie that attempts to bring a certain set of relationships to the forefront, Clover cannot help but dismiss it as “sentimental” or “cheesy,” especially if there is no action or whimsy to distract her.  I must admit that I too fall into this trap when watching certain movies, but I often find explorations of emotion and human interaction quite fascinating.

You may have heard that this film is about aliens.  That is incorrect: while the movie includes alien interactions, the focus of the film is on a group of kids that are starting to grow up.  The tragedies are ultimately human tragedies.  Joe Lamb, the protagonist of the film, loses his mother in an accident at the steel factory.  His father, the lieutenant sheriff of a small town, is left to raise Joe by himself.  Their interaction, which is both distant and desperate, is one of the highlights of the film.  Likewise, the exploration of each character, no matter how minor, lends a sense of fullness, or richness, to this film.  Clover thinks this movie is nothing special.  I have to beg to differ: the tangled relationships, the setting, and the plot all mingle into something utterly pleasant.  I agree that this is no masterpiece, of the likes of E.T. (which this movie imitates and draws on), but there is some spark in this film that is absent from movies like “X-Men: First Class,” a real sense of character.

I can taste character when I watch a film.  Some movies portray people in general as bitter and unloving, a distinctly sour flavor.  Others make the world seem like a playground—minor woes, minor foes, and major cuteness: this is sweet, sometimes cloyingly so.  But in a movie like “Super 8,” which, for the most part, portrays people as people, produces a flavor that is wonderfully subtle, like almond or coconut, and also amazingly rich: like truffle.  These people are real; these relationships are real.  I know people exactly like Joe, or like Martin (haha, brownie points for having my name for a character, never mind that that character is a wimp), and every word of their dialogue makes sense.  Clover says that she isn’t interested in prepubescent romance, but the truth is that all romance is prepubescent romance plus sexuality.  In my opinion, getting a prepubescent relationship right is a lot harder to fake than getting an adult romance right—in movies like “No Strings Attached” you just throw in lots of sex and messy break-up scenes and people will buy it.  But everyone knows that innocent and intense feeling of falling in love with someone at that age, and the complications that come with it.  To say that this characterization is nothing special is to deny that romance is special at all (and I’m sure Clover would quite easily make that concession).  A world without romance is a dull world indeed.

Though the audience is left with a few questions at the end, the ending still satisfies.  The viewer leaves the movie sated, if not stuffed, on the well-written, believable relationships.  What more can you ask for?

4.25/5

- Orion

See also: Apple’s Review (3.5/5)

Categories: Uncategorized

Production value!!: on development in “Super 8”

Orion and I haven’t seen a lot of movies recently, because nothing has seemed interesting.  We finally decided to see “Super 8” after hearing good things about it from everyone.  We had to settle for the tiny Arlington Heights movie theatre, and for a while we were the only people in the entire theatre.  I prefer watching movies with an active crowd, but the movie was nevertheless exciting.

“Super 8” felt like “E.T.” meets “War of the Worlds” – it’s a discovery film about alien life, from the point of view of kids, and with Elle Fanning instead of Dakota.  The best part of this movie was the truly believable relationships – the children are at that awkward semi-teen age in their lives, and their interactions are entirely believable. (The exception is the way parents act; their actions seem over exaggerated and suggest a much darker backstory; an adult audience automatically infers some kind of romantic affair when the actuality is much simpler.) It’s clear the script was meticulously developed, because almost nothing feels forced.  This natural, unnoticeable sort of development is the best kind, and shows a mature writer and director.

Unfortunately, I don’t particularly find budding pre-teen romance interesting.  Although well-done, I found myself waiting for the next bit of action; I wanted to see the alien rather than a bunch of kids argue amongst themselves.  Joe, our main character, is filming a monster movie to submit to a contest with his friends, and finds himself falling for Alice (Elle Fanning’s character); they both do good jobs, as do the rest of the children.  Charles, the leader/director/producer of the film group, especially has a heavy repertoire of one-liners that add comedic relief to otherwise heavy scenes.

In many ways, “Super 8” is similar to another previous alien+film movie, “Cloverfield” (which director J.J. Abrams produced), which is also about a group of friends, and presented entirely through a handheld camera.  I hated “Cloverfield,” and I remember I kept waiting for the handheld to cut to a real camera, and it never did.  However, it’s a lot more interesting and a lot less annoying to hang out with a bunch of coming-of-age children (“Super 8” hero Joe and his friends are around 13) than a bunch of rowdy young adults (“Cloverfield” characters are old enough to drink but not old enough to be responsible or likeable).

Orion is likely to focus more on the personal development of the children in “Super 8,” but for me, the movie felt just a little too light.  There wasn’t anything epic in this movie; sure, there were a few cheap scares and some great destruction scenes, but in the end, there wasn’t anything to grasp on to.  If someone mentioned they were going to see “Super 8,” I would wish them well, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, especially in terms of a summer blockbuster.

Overall – 3.5/5; there’s nothing particularly wrong with “Super 8,” but there’s also nothing particularly great.  My favorite part was probably the short film that plays during the credits, called “The Case,” which is supposed to be the film the children end up making and submitting to their film contest.

Best regards,

Apple

See also: Orion’s Review (4.25/5)

Intriguing previews from “The Tree of Life”: Buck, Another Earth, and The Descendants.

Although we walked out of “The Tree of Life,” it had quite a few interesting previews that I hadn’t seen before.

First, “Buck” is a documentary about a “horse whisperer.”

Second, “Another Earth,” about a duplicate planet Earth.

Third, “The Descendants,” with George Clooney!

July 2011!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – the saga continues, this time on the moon!

HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows II – the most exciting part of my year, definitely.

Winnie the Pooh – finally gets a movie!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – I hated the book, personally, but apparently it’s good enough to make a movie about.

Captain America – comic-book lovers all around are getting their wishes!

Friends with Benefits – the hotter version of “No Strings Attached,” ft. J-Timberlake and Mila Kunis!

Cowboys and Aliens – Orion and I have been excited for this since we saw the preview at HP&DH-1!

You point, I’ll drive: on “Beginners”

After we walked out of “Tree of Life,” we ended up in “Beginners,” simply because there was a subtitled, semi-talking dog in the previews.  We knew some basics about the movie – Ewan McGregor starred as Oliver, a man whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) is dying.  We also knew he had a dog named Arthur and had just met a girl named Anna (Melanie Laurent).

“Beginners” felt very whimsical.  The timeline of the film is criss-crossed between two different stories – the first, of Oliver’s budding romance with Anna, and the second, of Hal’s coming out and decline of health.  We also receive a few shots of a young Oliver, with his very hip but slightly crazy mother (these scenes reminded me of Fitzgerald’s young Amory, from “This Side of Paradise”).

Christopher Plummer plays an excellent, believable character, who simultaneously makes us laugh and feel great sorrow; it’s difficult to fall in love with a character who we know is going to die, there is a feeling of missing someone who is still there.  Having come out after Oliver’s mother’s death, Hal is suddenly super-involved with a new crowd, has a new boyfriend, and is trying to deal with his grave illness.  The movie follows things through Oliver’s point of view (director Mike Mills based the movie on his own experience), but Plummer breathes a charm into Hal’s otherwise plain (almost cliché?) character.  There is one scene in the movie where a homestay nurse attempts to style Hal’s hair, which sounds so simple and silly, but was terribly heartbreaking to see.

Less interesting and/or believable was Oliver’s relationship with Anna.  It felt too contrived, to meet at a party where Anna does not speak, to return to her hotel room (Anna only lives in hotel rooms, because they make her feel “free”), and to have awkward breakup/makeup conversations.  This type of whimsical couple-y arc felt too much like a chick-flick to me, even though things are from Oliver’s perspective.  A girl who’s always on the run from being tied down?  Thanks, but we’ve seen that all the way back in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Throughout the film, Oliver is working on an assignment to make a cover for the band “The Sads,” and he works his own experiences into this assignment, generating tons and tons of potential album covers, none of which the band like.  The film feels likewise scattered, which is okay at times, but leaves us with a cottony impression after leaving the theatre.  Kevin fell asleep halfway through and slept for most of the film.

Overall – 3.5/5; “Beginners” offers a fluffy look at two relationships, one which is ending and one which is beginning, but despite the heavy backstory and a compelling performance by Plummer, that’s all it ends up feeling like: fluff.

Best regards,

Apple

X-Men: First Class–A Second-Class Film (Orion’s Take 2/5)

June 13, 2011 1 comment

This movie review is late.  Part of the reason for that is the sheer disbelief I felt when leaving the movie theater after the credits—I needed time to process my horror over the destruction of a beloved brand.  Perhaps I exaggerate: after all, the lead characters did their job admirably.  I just cannot comprehend why the producers of this film thought it a good idea to return to the era of kitschy, campy, superhero movies, when The Dark Knight proved to anyone with a brain that superhero movies could be done seriously, and done right.

As noted above, the rapport between James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto is quite electrifying.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give them enough room to grow: though it’s clear that the two characters respect each other (Xavier and Magneto go as far as to call each other “brother”), there is no real interaction between the two that explains this connection.  Sure, the two play some chess, and talk about the nature of revenge, and of mutant rights—but that makes up maybe 10 minutes of a two-hour film.  There simply isn’t enough material to go around.

Thus, despite excellent performances by both McAvoy and Fassbender, the relationship seems stilted somehow, strangely misplaced.  This is all the more problematic because the two characters share an extremely complicated relationship in the other films and in X-Men canon.  Magneto is no simple villain, and Xavier is no simple hero, but without a lack of development at the end of the film these are the positions each character holds.

And if that weren’t bad enough, the rest of the cast is at best lackluster.  I don’t blame them.  Playing such second-rate mutants as “Banshee” or “Angel” can’t have been exciting.  The only characters the casual fan will recognize are Beast, Mystique, and maybe Havok.  I don’t understand why these were the X-Men chosen to make up the “first class” of X-Men—obviously the movie doesn’t stick that closely to canon (everyone knows that the real reason Xavier is in a wheelchair is because of Lucifer, an obscure villain), but why use random X-Men nobody has heard of?  Also, the first few X-Men also run into the same problem as Xavier and Magneto, getting so little screen-time that when one character is removed from action, the audience doesn’t feel a thing.

My feelings are captured in the last scene of the movie.  Erik Lehnsherr has put on the mantle of Magneto.  His cape is red.  He’s wearing gloves.  I’m excited for this moment, the beginning of the next chapter, the unveiling of one of the best comic book villains ever.  And then the camera cuts to Magneto’s face.  The helmet, which was cool before in silver, is now spray-painted a gaudy red.  There are two horns on the front.  He looks and obviously feels ridiculous, but he takes a deep breath and delivers a line that makes me smile in embarrassment.

“Call me…Magneto.”

2/5 Waffles

–Orion

See also: Apple’s Review (4/5)

The Challenge: On how we walked, crying, out of “Tree of Life” after twenty minutes.

After the disappointingly short Last Lecture, Kevin, Olivia and I decided to go check out a movie.  At the movie theater, Kevin convinced me and Olivia to see “The Tree of Life,” describing it as “amazing” and “like ‘Benjamin Button’ but backwards.”  So we bought tickets and entered.

First off, the previews from the movie were very interesting in and of themselves, and I’ll definitely post later about them.  The first ten minutes were achingly sad, filled with a palpable grief that was wonderfully expressed through an extremely disorienting camera.  The camera shifted, cut, and moved at unexpected angles; time itself seemed to bend.  Brad Pitt’s eyebrows knit, and we cut to an adult Sean Penn, mourning.  There was a beautiful shot of a swarm of birds moving across a city sky, and I was instantly reminded of Milton’s line about “locusts warping on the Eastern Wind.”

Then, everything went downhill.  We got shots of flames, with dramatic voiceovers, and tons of images of volcanoes erupting and stars and stars and stars.  Somewhere in the audience, someone laughed and tried to hide it with a cough.  That was enough for me to leave, because I knew that if I even looked at Kevin or Olivia, I would burst out laughing and then subsequently get kicked out of the movie theater.

Later, Kevin would tell me that the entire time, Olivia was mouthing, “I’m going to kill you,” and that was why he started laughing.  I attempted to return to the movie after walking around and drinking some water, but when I came back, the movie was still on stars.  We all left.

I can’t really describe why the movie was so ridiculous.  I know it’s won many awards, but I literally could not get past this sequence.  The first few moments were brilliant and heartbreaking, and none of us had ever walked out of a movie before, but we did.  I wanted to troll Orion by telling him it was the most amazing movie ever, but could not keep a straight face.  Now, I think there should be a challenge: see how long you can last before leaving.  Kevin, Olivia, and I lasted about twenty-five minutes; see how long you can last.  If you finish it, definitely let me know if it gets better or makes sense.

We watched “Beginners” instead, minus the first ten minutes or so, and it turned out to be quite a cute, sweet movie.  Review forthcoming.

Best regards,

Apple

Killing will not bring you peace, my friend: “X-Men: First Class”

I have been excited for this movie since the first preview.  X-Men is set apart from other superhero/comic book series simply because of the sheer number of characters.  There is no main superhero; instead, there are teams.  Although the latest installation in the X-Men franchise, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was terrible, the trailers for X-Men: First Class focusing on different characters just looked so exciting.  Orion and I went to the midnight premiere, which is always fun and packed with energy.

James McAvoy stars as the young Professor X, still simply Charles, who begins discovering other mutants.  There is a sense of coming together, and, as Charles says several times, “you are not alone.”  There were many things that I liked about “First Class,” but I think my favorite was just how many characters there were, and how each character grew in his or her own way.  (You guys can check out some of the character-specific trailers that are out there.)

Of course, the movie is filled with tributes to the original X-Men movies, both its predecessor and future.  We see Charles and Erik attempt to recruit a gruffy Wolverine, we learn how Charles became wheel chair bound, and watch the rise of the Brotherhood.  While this is pleasant and fun in one sense, it’s also sometimes frustrating; ne of the big problems I have with Marvel is just how many contributors there are to a series; so many different authors have all written in their own stories, so continuity becomes a big problem.

It’s amazing how much the movie was able to accomplish – not only do friendships form and break, but romances and alliances do as well.  Of course, they’re not very thoroughly developed because of the sheer mass of events, but it’s enough to be believable.  The division between mutants with physical abilities and mutants with mental abilities, for example, is something I never really considered before, but plays out in the movie.

Overall, 4/5 – the story was fast-paced, fun, and exciting!  I love watching the students grow, and Charles and Erik evolve into Professor X and Magneto.  Orion hated the movie though, so you’ll all have to stay tuned to hear what he thinks!

Best regards,

Apple

See also: Orion’s Review (2/5)




Kung Fu Panda–Orion’s Take

Po the Panda

Po is pretty fat. But he lost weight.

Watching Po’s master, Master Shifu, carry a drop of water from the air to a plant on the ground is impressive.  Like Po, the audience clamors to see it again.  We look at it as a cool diversion, a flashy move to show it off to our friends.  No, no, says Master Sifu.  This is the result of “inner peace.”  If the viewer takes the journey to inner peace for granted, as I did, assuming that Po will achieve it by the end, never mind the journey, they will be pleasantly surprised.  The destination is indeed inevitable.  But the journey is a breathtakingly funny and moving one.

Po the panda, played once again by a hilarious Jack Black, has everything he wanted in the first film: cool companions (the Furious Five), kung fu, lots of food—in other words, life is good.  But not all is well in China.  A villain is stirring in Gongmen City—Lord Shen, played with elegant villainy by Gary Oldman.  Lord Shen, a peacock, had been experimenting with firework weapons, when a soothsayer predicted that “a warrior of black and white” would one day defeat him.  Assuming that this is a reference to pandas, Lord Shen killed all the pandas he could find, leading his horrified parents to banish him.

Many years later, Po is involved in a fight with Lord Shen’s wolf minions when a symbol on a wolf’s armor sends him into a flashback—he sees a female panda, who he assumes is his mother, fading into the snow.  Suddenly unsure of his identity, Po confronts his father (a goose) who admits to Po that he is adopted.  Big surprise, yes?

It’s hard to get at the soul of this film in a synopsis—somehow Kung Fu Panda 2 manages to strike that perfect balance between humor and darkness.  It reminded me of Toy Story 3 in the way it managed to make me laugh one second and tear up in the next.  And when Po finally achieves inner peace, my heart swelled within my chest—I felt like I couldn’t breathe—and yet I felt perfectly content.

5/5 Waffles

-Orion

Categories: Movie Reviews
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