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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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