December 2011

Super 8 Midnight in Paris Larry Crowne Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


 

Super 8

 

Working with Steven Spielberg must have been a dream come true for J.J. Abrams.  The auteur behind Lost and the Star Trek reboot is just the right age to have been influenced by Spielberg’s work during his formative years. With Super 8, the sci-fi titans join forces, essentially paying homage to each other. It’s a terrific idea, if not quite so impressive in its execution.

 

Set in 1979, the movie features a group of young teens (led by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) making a Super 8 zombie flick in their small town. One night, they inadvertently film a train derailment — and the subsequent escape of an alien creature. As the monster wreaks havoc and the military moves in, the kids set about saving the day as only they can.

 

As director and producer, respectively, Abrams and Spielberg each do what they do best. Abrams can build tension and mystery like nobody’s business, and he knows his way around an action scene (the derailment calls to mind the plane crash at the beginning of Lost). Meanwhile, Spielberg taps into the psyches of his lonely, creative young protagonists, offering quirky humor and emotional insight to accompany the adventure.

 

This works fine until the two styles start to contradict each other. The devastating violence and terror of the alien’s attacks don’t mesh well with the lighter coming-of-age elements, especially when it seems the audience is supposed to sympathize with the thing. Super 8 eventually becomes a haphazard mash-up of E.T. and Cloverfield  — two great things that DON’T go great together.

 

Extras: Commentary by Abrams, co-producer Bryan Burk & cinematographer Larry Fong; features on a range of topics, including casting, special effects and the score; an interactive “deconstruction” of the train crash sequence; deleted scenes. (PG-13) Rating: 3 —LL

 

Midnight in Paris

 

Woody Allen turned 76 yesterday, and the writer-director has proved he still has something to offer after all these years. Midnight in Paris is his most popular movie in years, and it’s easy to see why. Apparently getting away from New York and London has rekindled his imagination, and you don’t necessarily need an understanding of 1920’s culture to enjoy the Woodman’s celebration of it.

 

Owen Wilson, playing the sort of role Allen would have played decades ago, stars as a struggling writer named Gil who wants to move to the City of Light once he and his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) get married. His love affair with the city winds up detracting from his upcoming nuptials, and the adoration increases when he discovers that a street corner in the city can magically take him back to mingle with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), former Kansas Citian Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Gil even winds up having a fling with Pablo Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard).

 

If Allen had merely dropped names, Midnight in Paris would have simply been a weak substitute for a high school or college history lesion. Thankfully, he has a lot of fun toying with our ideas of what these figures were like. Brody’s Dalí, who has a strange obsession with rhinos, is a riot, and Stoll’s Hemingway doesn’t quite have the sense to take himself a little less seriously. It’s also a pleasure to hear Allen’s trademark wisecracks delivered in Wilson’s thick Texas drawl. It keeps the bon mots sounding fresh. By not even trying to imitate Allen’s stammer and neuroses, he winds up being the best Allen substitute yet.

 

Lovingly shot by Darius Khondji (Se7en, Panic Room), the French capital and Versailles have rarely looked so enchanting. It’s also fun to watch real life French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy play a tour guide. Allen’s love for Paris is obvious, and watching his latest offering certainly makes his affection contagious.

 

Extras: There’s a little more than usual for an Allen film. A featurette titled Midnight at Cannes includes cast and crew interviews and footage of the film’s premiere at the annual festival. Sadly, no commentary from Allen. Like Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, he’s loath to talk while his own film is playing. (PG-13) Rating: 4 —DL

 

Larry Crowne

 

It’s nice that Tom Hanks wanted to make a movie about the plight of unemployed Americans. It’s too bad that movie turned out to be Larry Crowne, which seems to have been made by a robot whose knowledge of humans comes exclusively from mid-level sitcoms and life insurance commercials.

 

Hanks both directs and plays the title character, a popular big-box store worker who is inexplicably let go after 20 years for not having a college degree. After liquidating most of his belongings, Larry enrolls in community college, where he falls in with an annoying young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her Vespa-riding buddies. It’s not the “manic pixie dream girl” he falls in love with, though — it’s the bitter, cynical speech professor (Julia Roberts), who starts to brighten up around her new student.  Laughter and lessons ensue, at least for the characters.

 

It shouldn’t be impossible for rich movie stars to portray ordinary, struggling people. Understanding different experiences is part of an actor/writer/director’s job, and Hanks is an especially gifted member of those professions (his co-writer, Nia Vardalos, is no slouch, either). So what happened? It may be that Hanks’ affable style doesn’t jell with such a serious subject or that he and Vardalos are overly desperate to be cute and charming. Whatever the reason, Larry Crowne is a major misstep for too many talented people.

 

Extras: Deleted scenes; a making-of feature; clips of on-set antics. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 —LL

 

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

 

If Answers to Nothing was as empty as its title, the moniker for this movie had me giggling before the film even started. Fortunately, the guilt inducing laughs don’t stop once the Canadian-made DVD starts playing. It’s intriguing how much more entertaining it is if the formula for most slasher movies is reversed. Oh, the body count is still sizable, but it’s a lot more fun.

 

The title characters, the suave Tucker (Alan Tudyk, Firefly) and the earnest but bumbling Dale (Tyler Labine) are two blue collar guys who simply want to enjoy their fishing trip. A group of condescending, obnoxious college kids decide the lake near their dilapidated “vacation home” is a perfect place to skinny dip and get wasted.

 

When our heroes rescue a student (Katrina Bowden) who injures herself after a botched dive, the frat rats and so cows who accompanied her to believe that Tucker and Dale are Deliverance-style bad guys instead of good ol’ boys. As a result, their paranoia and class snobbery end up leading the youngsters into bizarre injuries and deaths. It’s amazing what happens when one of these kids makes the mistake of getting between poor Tucker and his wood chipper.

 

Screenwriters Eli Craig (who directed) and Morgan Jurgenson manage to come up with just enough gory gags to keep the one joke film from getting old. They also manage to sneak in a warning about the dangers of letting prejudice take over our thinking. It’s surprisingly easy to let fear turn us into villains.

 

Extras: Fifteen minutes of outtakes and a short Tucker & Dale Are Evil, which is the same story told from the students’ point of view. (R) Rating: 3.5 —DL

 

 


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.