Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Super 8

For me the ages of 12 to 13 were, to be quite honest, horrible. Kids aren't really any more mature or blessed with any more tact than they had before but the insults are crueler. Bad days seem worse. Suddenly it matters what girls think of you. Basically... it stinks. Why then would anyone feel nostalgic about it, let alone nostalgic enough to make a movie about it? That's the question that lingered for me going in to "Super 8," a movie I was otherwise very much looking forward to. Having watched it I can now understand why.
A few months before the end of the school year, middle schooler Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) lost his mother in a tragic accident. As the summer of 1979 begins Joe and his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler, "Friday Night Lights") are understandably struggling. Jackson believes that getting out of their little town of Lillian, Ohio for a while might be just what they both need. But Joe is determined to help his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths, another newcomer) finish his zombie movie. The rest of their friends, Preston (Zach Mills, "Mr. Magorium"), pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee), and slow witted Martin (Gabriel Basso, "The Big C") round out the cast and crew. That is until Charles decides to add an emotional element to his script in the form of a girl, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning).
As they film the movie's key scene on the town's railroad platform, a passing locomotive (which Charles feels will make for terrific "production value") collides with a pickup truck, causing a mammoth disaster that sends the kids running for their lives. A warning from a survivor of the crash convinces them to scatter just as the United States Air Force arrives on the scene. Joe and his friends know that something disturbing is afoot and soon the town of Lillian comes to realize it too.
Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, "Super 8" is a loving ode to its own producer Steven Spielberg, without coming off as fanboy worship (mostly). It works so well because the nostalgia feels genuine. It managed to do what I didn't believe possible. It made the thought of being twelve years old not sound so terrible. The film got me thinking about my own childhood, my own geekdom, and it sort of made me wish that I'd met my best friend a few years earlier. I think our twelve year old selves would have had a blast together. Abrams keeps the focus on the emotion and the characters, getting the most from his young performers, two of whom were completely inexperienced. Honestly, you'd never know that Joel Courtney had never acted on screen before and he's the film's lead. Fanning meanwhile displays a true talent that is astounding, considering she's merely thirteen years old.
The visual effects were far better than most in our CGI age. For the most part they don't particularly look like visual effects which is exactly as it should be. It fits well with the overall style of the picture. Abrams' movie is about the love of filmmaking and about trying to make things seem as real as possible. It's a movie that will bring out your inner twelve year old. You'll laugh, be entertained, be moved, and ultimately be amazed by the sense of magic that "Super 8" posseses.
Yes, it does have some flaws. A few moments take their Spielbergian inspiration a bit too far and the ending seems to take a bit too long. But even the flaws somehow seem to belong there. This is after all the story of kids making a Super 8 horror film. And as the film faded to black I found myself doing something I almost never do. I was wishing that it wasn't done yet. In truth it wasn't. Don't leave when the credits start.
"Super 8" is a flawed but wonderful film that does everything you want from a summer blockbuster that you rarely actually get. 9/10.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

X-Men: First Class

It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since Bryan Singer's "X-Men" hit theaters and quite honestly surprised me. It was a far better movie than I had expected. It wasn't because I was a die hard comic book snob, nor was it due to me believing that superhero movies were beneath me. It was simply because I hadn't expected much from it. In 2003, Singer's own follow up "X2" was actually in many respects a step up from the original despite shamelessly lifting the entire ending of "The Wrath of Khan." Then during pre-production of the third entry Singer jumped ship to direct "Superman Returns," thus leaving Brett Ratner to finish the job. The less said about the result the better.
After the lackluster third entry Fox decided to rejuvenate the franchise by giving us the origin story of Wolverine in the aptly named, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which admittedly I never saw. So as someone who had never read an "X-Men" comic and had enjoyed but not fallen in love with two out of four movies in the film series, I awaited "X-Men: First Class" with the sort of fervor that can best be described as, "Yeah... I've got nothing else going on and it starts in an hour. Why not?"
It's 1962 and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, "Inglourious Basterds") is a young man, but despite his youth he has more than his share of horrific memories. His ability to move metallic objects with his mind could not save his parents or anyone but himself from being killed in the Holocaust. Erik has revenge on the brain and his number one target is his chief tormentor from the death camp, Sebastian Shaw (a surprisingly evil Kevin Bacon). Shaw, now a highly successful playboy with connections to seats of power, is seeking to turn Cold War tensions to his advantage.
Meanwhile, a young and dashing professor by the name of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is putting his ability to read minds to good use by drunkenly hitting on coeds. Like his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"), Charles is a mutant, but he displays no shocking physical characteristics. Raven, naturally being blue, has a decidedly more difficult time with her own mutation.
With U.S.-Soviet problems escalating the United States government is seeking any advantage it can get. Young field agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, "Bridesmaids") has taken an interest in Xavier's theories and with the hesitant backing of the CIA, Charles sets about finding other mutants and training them to fight. It is also his hope that they will find acceptance in human society. When he comes upon Erik a friendship is forged that unbeknownst to them will change the world forever.
Anyone who knows these characters and the story of what is to come also knows about where things will stand at the end of this film. Knowing that they do not have surprise on their side, the four screen writers and director Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass") still manage to give us a mostly satisfying look at how it all began. At 2 hours and 12 minutes it's a bit longer than it needs to be and occassionally character motivations are muddled but for the most part it's good fun with an interesting enough story and some good performances.
McAvoy wisely doesn't attempt to be the young Patrick Stewart. He's a great actor and has the confidence to play Charles Xavier his way, delivering a fine performance. Lawrence is absolutely terrific, the character of Raven/Mystique given far greater depth than it had even been allowed before. It's just a shame that this character also suffers from the muddled motivation issue, though that can hardly be blamed on Lawrence. There's nice work here too from Byrne, Bacon, and Nicholas Hoult ("About a Boy," "Wah-Wah") but the runaway star of the show is Fassbender. Like McAvoy, he makes his character his own. You won't see traces of Ian McKellen there but when you're as good as Fassbender you can just be yourself. Erik is a character walking the tight rope between right and wrong and every decision he makes, even if it's the wrong one, is understandable. He's the most well-written and performed character in the film and the main reason I look forward to this prequel's inevitable sequel.
There should certainly be better movies this summer but there will most definitely be worse ones. "X-Men: First Class" is a perfectly good way to spend a summer evening. 7.5/10.