SUPER 8 (IN THEATERS/2011)
Warning: The following discussion is spoiler-heavy—although, come on, we all know that a Spielberg homage is going to have an alien in it, right? Whoops.
Brian! Quiz! What is the thing that Steven Spielberg loves the most? A) Characters staring into the night sky with childlike wonder. B) Fat kids. C) One dead parent. D) Aliens finally going home, as string-heavy music swells in the background. E) Hating mean old military stiffs. All of the above! And writer/director J.J. Abrams includes all of these elements in his sweet tribute to Spielberg movies (the ‘80s ones), Super 8. As we know, Steven, who never met a leaden framing device he didn’t like, pushes my buttons. When the Amblin Entertainment logo pops up before a movie, it earns well-deserved boos in every theater I’ve ever been in (that I am doing the booing is beside the point). But put his formula into the hands of Abrams, who seems to respect the intelligence of his audience a little more, and it makes for a nostalgic movie that deserves summer blockbuster status. Enjoying the loaded-with-meaning father/son hugs, occasionally cartoonishly evil henchmen, hero’s zooms-in, and slightly-too-knowing-for-their-age kid dialogue is virtually guilt-free, and I look forward to many years of half-watching this on nonpremium cable. Read more »
BLUE VALENTINE (2010/IN THEATERS) Have you ever heard that the characteristic that most draws you to a person is usually the thing that eventually makes you hate them? Derek Cianfrance made a whole movie about this concept! And man, is it depressing! Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are just as fascinating as you’ve heard as a couple crumbling in present day, and falling in love about five years prior. You’ve overheard this couple’s tense grocery store conversation in the frozen foods aisle and tried to pretend that you didn’t. You’ve felt sorry for their cute kid and wondered what drew these two angry people together in the first place. Read more »
TABLOID (2010/IN THEATERS)
So Sarah. After this very short, almost slight documentary was over, I turned to you and said, “Um, that was kind of mean.” Upon further reflection, I stand by my one-sentence review. The title is apt–Errol Morris has made a tabloid-style documentary about beauty queen Joyce McKinney who, overcome by an obsession with a devoutly Mormon man who disappeared from her life to go on a mission (the extent of their relationship is unclear, and he refused to be interviewed), gathered a motley crew to find him, whisked him away to a cottage where she shackled and had sex with him, and eventually was arrested for abduction. It’s a fascinating story, and McKinney is such a funny and charismatic storyteller that for a while I found myself believing everything she said and waiting for the other talking heads (reporters from the Daily Mirror and the Express, a young Mormon, and one of McKinney’s friends who initially helped her with the “abduction”) to prove her wrong. As the story moves forward you start to realize that McKinney is probably delusional, definitely troubled, and maybe doesn’t deserve to have this part of her life rehashed for the amusement of reporters who have the gall to laugh when recalling her suicide attempt. Yuck.
THE ARTIST (2011/IN THEATERS)
Sarah! I am so glad we were able to preview The Artist at the St. Louis International Film Festival, well before the unwashed masses. It’s always a pleasure to see the Tivoli packed to the gills with nerdy film buffs like ourselves, even if we suspected that many of them bought tickets in hopes that supporting actor and Hometown Hero John Goodman might make a special guest appearance. He did not! (Though his image from The Big Lebowski adorned the Major Filmmaker Awards.) Lucky for everyone, The Artist was a total delight. That a gleeful homage to the silent era could hold an audience rapt from beginning to end is no small feat in the era of 3D and seizure-inducing vampire baby nightmare birth scenes. But this B&W charmer (which follows the waning career of a silent-era star, played by the alarmingly suave Jean Dujardin, and the rise of talkie ingenue/love interest Berenice Bejo) had a magnetic cast, chipper score, beautiful sets (a staircase scene was pretty amazing in scale and choreography), and an engaging plot that, while maybe directed a little broadly, was no less sweet and compelling for it. And though it costars a very talented dog (who some people are think should be nominated for an Oscar? Whaaat? Let’s get Serkis in there first, then work our way toward actual animals, you goofs) it requires zero warning barks on my patented scale. Win-win!