Archive for June, 2011

Double Feature Anyone?

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2011 by JonH

I’m on a roll. For past the past three Fridays I’ve hit the theatres with my gang o’ two home units and seen a pretty good flick. Now, I doubt any of these films will garner any attention in the Best Picture category at next year’s Oscars, but each had pretty cool things going for it and was, in the end, a pretty decent bang for the thirteen buck (plus $6.25 for the popcorn and $5.25 for the vitamin water).

First up was Thor. This was my least favourite of the three, but that hardly means it was lacking in terms of what a film based on the God of Thunder should offer: decent story, great action and an armoured Anthony Hopkins wearing an eye patch. I’ve actually already written about Thor, but you knew that. If you didn’t, shame on you. Go here to get yourself caught up.

You back? Good. Grab yourself a slice of watermelon. It’s time for the review double feature:

Set in 1979, Super 8 is a fun, fast-paced adventure film, which could easily have been taken from the same page as films like The Goonies or E.T., but with a bit more of an ominous edge to it.

A group of young friends sneak out late one night to film a scene for a zombie movie one of them is entering into a local film contest. As they’re shooting they witness a train crash, which comes perilously close to ending their film-making careers. The kids escape but accidentally leave behind all of their equipment, including the camera with all of their footage—footage, they later find out that contains some very mysterious images. They all agree to keep quiet and not share anything about what they’ve witnessed with anyone.

The next morning, their town has become the centre of a huge military investigation. Strange things are afoot in fictional Lillian, Ohio. Strange things, indeed: people have begun to go missing; car engines and microwaves are being stolen; dogs are running away. The friends secretly try to solve the strange events as they struggle to finish their film.

To quote the 18-year-old member of the movie watching triumvirate, Super 8 is J.J. Abrams’ unabashed tribute to Steven Spielberg. In fact, when you look up Steven Spielberg on Wikipedia, one of the first things that jumps out at you reads like part of the film itself:

“Throughout his early teens, Spielberg made amateur 8 mm “adventure” films with his friends, the first of which he shot at the Pinnacle Peak Patio restaurant in Scottsdale. He charged admission (25 cents) to his home films (which involved the wrecks he staged with his Lionel train set) while his sister sold popcorn.”

In terms of the themes being explored, Spielberg has his mitts all over this film as well. From the main cast consisting primarily of children imbued with the sense of wonder and fascination adults have fallen out of touch with to the way kids solve seemingly insoluble problems (think of Chunk in The Goonies befriending Sloth by sharing his chocolate bars – adults don’t share. In Super 8, Joe Lamb’s simple comment, “bad things happen” gets him out of a pretty precarious situation.)

Abrams’ stamp is on the centre of the mystery. Without going into detail suffice it to say Cloverfield comes to mind.

The young actors in this movie all pull off their roles with aplomb and do a convincing job as a ragtag group of friends all lending a hand to get their buddy’s film made.

However, there’s more to the film than just the mystery. The protagonist of the story is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney). Joe’s mother was recently killed in a factory accident, and his dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), the town deputy, resents the fact that his son is hanging out with a bunch of kids who’re just wasting their time. Jackson and Joe struggle as neither one understands the other. The tension between the two is only exacerbated by the mysterious events. Despite his father’s disapproval, Joe continues to work with his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee) on Charles’s film.

Things begin to look up when Charles tells Joe that he cast Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s sister) in the role of the title character’s wife. The parallel themes of father/son redemption and first love run amok with a mind control alien. (Damn, that was an unannounced spoiler.)

With the exception of Joe’s father, most of the adult roles seem two-dimensional and could have been filled by anyone. However, this is minor and doesn’t take away from the film in the least because really it’s all about the kids.

Make sure to stick around after the main feature ends because you get to see the movie within the movie: The Case. This is the final product of the young filmmakers’ efforts. Needless to say, it’s pretty funny.

Super 8 is a very entertaining film, and I’m sure anybody that has a soft spot for those adventure flicks from the ‘80s will enjoy it as much as I did. Being on the early side of forty, I found that the sets, the costumes (err, clothing), and the soundtrack really took me back to a day when adventure was all my friends and I had on our minds.

Speaking of movies set in an earlier time, the opening to Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men: First Class is a juxtaposition of two radically different scenes set in the 1940s. The first is the harsh confines of a concentration camp in occupied Poland. The second is a close up of young boy sleeping in the warmth of his bed in the posh surroundings of his parents’ Victorian era Westchester County, New York home.

The opening scene is, of course, a recreation of the scene that the first X-Men movie opened with, but with an intense elaboration on what happened to Erik Lensherr (played as a young boy by Bill Milner) after he was separated from his parents. Lensherr grows up to become the antihero Magneto. The second scene is unique to First Class and shows a young Charles Xavier (played by Laurence Belcher) discovering that he’s not the only mutant in the world as he finds ten-year-old Raven (Morgan Lily) in his kitchen mimicking his mother’s appearance in order to steal food.

The initial scenes set the tone for the remainder of the film and serve to outline the contrasting viewpoints that compel both Professor X and Magneto throughout the films.

After seeing all of the trailers for this movie I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed. It had a campy look that I found kind of goofy. It really didn’t inspire me at all. However, being a fan of the X-Men, I had to go check it out. Besides, I thought, it’s my mutant ability to be unfazed by crap. I was sure I’d find something good about it.

And I didn’t have to look hard.

Fast forward to the early sixties—both Lensherr and Xavier are men, but as we expect on very different paths. Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is brooding and single-minded, bent on hunting down the Nazi that killed his mother, Sebastian Shaw (played with creepy effectiveness by Kevin Bacon); While Xavier (James McAvoy, pictured below) is a fun-loving, flirtatious, and idealistic graduate student.

Both actors create round, three-dimensional characters and put in a first-rate performance, but Fassbender is utterly spellbinding as Lensherr/Magneto. Contributing to the dark nature of the role is the music that accompanies him whenever he’s on screen. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the most effective uses of music that I’ve heard in a movie in a long time. It’s a perfect example of how just the right soundtrack can impel the emotion of the film forward. It’s right up there with the Imperial March from Star Wars. (Gawd, I’m a geek.)

Using the historical events of the Cold War, and more specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis, as backdrop for the conflict in the movie, X-Men: First Class first and foremost depicts the relationship between two men who are very similar and yet ideologically opposed, but who nevertheless develop a friendship and deep respect for one another. These two characters are so rich they form the basis of a dense character study. But this movie is more than that. It also delves into issues of oppression, ignorance, manipulation and willful hatred of the unknown.

Clocking in at just over two hours, the movie throws a lot at you but never seems to drag. There are a few minor points when the film stumbles a bit—this is primarily in some of the action scenes featuring minor characters (Angel and Banshee’s battle scenes come to mind), a very campy moment when Xavier looks into Emma Frost’s mind revealing Shaw’s plan for world domination, and Beast’s ridiculous need for glasses—alright, that’s a bit of a reach. Overall, each of these is a minor distraction that doesn’t really take away from the whole.

In the end, I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I enjoyed X-Men: First Class so much, I went to see it again two days later. Now, I’m stuck waiting for X-Men: Second Class.